Hope returns for hosts Germany ahead of Euro 2024

AFP , Wednesday 5 Jun 2024

Host nation Germany are riding a resurgent wave of hope with the Euro 2024 tournament opener against Scotland just days away.

Germany s head coach Julian Nagelsmann (r), flanked by veteran defender Joshua Kimmich. AFP

After two group stage World Cup exits in a row and a loss to England in the last 16 of the Euros in 2021, Germany suffered a dire 2023, with just three wins in 11 games.

Many in Germany predicted an embarrassing early exit for the three-time Euros champions on home soil. That view has changed in the four months.

While Germany may only have drawn 0-0 with Ukraine in Nuremberg on Monday, they spurned chances, particularly during a dominant second-half.

"You'd prefer to win," coach Julian Nagelsmann said after the match. "But the most important factor is that I want to see a team which wants to win. Today, we wanted that victory."

Germany were without four players, including fulcrum Toni Kroos, who played with Real Madrid in last Saturday's Champions League final.

Debutant striker Maximilian Beier went close to breaking the deadlock while youngsters Florian Wirtz and Jamal Musiala showed they can form a dangerous attacking combination.

Other Nagelsmann selections, including Stuttgart's Chris Fuehrich and Maximilian Mittelstaedt also impressed, suggesting the coach has got his squad right before the tournament.

The improvement in form on the pitch -- and the optimism off it -- will buoy Nagelsmann's side as they push for a fourth Euros trophy, which would break a tie with Spain for most titles.

Germany face Greece in their final friendly on Friday in Moenchengladbach, but will come up against sterner tests should they want to make it to the business end of the Euros.

- 'Perfect' preparation -

Taking over in late 2023 after Hansi Flick became the first coach in Germany history to be sacked, Nagelsmann won just one of his first four games.

The coach shook up his squad in response, leaving out 11 players and bringing back 2014 World Cup winner Kroos, who had retired from international duty in 2021.

Rather than relying on big names from powerhouse clubs Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, Nagelsmann's squad was heavy with players from Bayer Leverkusen, on their way to a Bundesliga title, and Stuttgart, who finished as surprise runners up.

With Nagelsmann picking players on form, Germany beat two Euro 2024 contenders France and the Netherlands in March with convincing performances.

Germany face Scotland, Hungary and Switzerland in the group stages -- three teams the hosts will now be expected to beat.

Nagelsmann said the Ukraine match was "perfect in view of the games which await us in the group phase".

Veteran Thomas Mueller, heading into his fourth Euros, said Monday there was "no reason to be nervous" despite the goalless draw.

- 'Great support' -

After the difficult years, the German public has embraced the national team on the eve of the tournament.

Instead of the usual mode of squad announcements via tired press conferences, the German FA (DFB) embraced a novel approach, drip feeding the team player-by-player through TV personalities, influencers and celebrities -- reaching a new audience as a result.

Star midfielder Wirtz was announced at a concert by musician Nina Chuba, while Real Madrid defender Antonio Ruediger's selection was made public by a video from his favourite kebab shop in Berlin.

Just over 15,000 fans sold out a stadium in the central German town of Jena to watch the team train in late May -- with a further 16,000 watching a live stream.

Nagelsmann told AFP subsidiary SID in late May "we felt the enthusiasm of the public for their team. We'll take this great support with us until the tournament."

(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO_Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports.)

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