For the first time in their history, Germany is aiming follow up their World Cup win by bagging the European Championship title. The hope is for Mesut Özil, the German national team’s player of the year in 2015, to play an instrumental part and lead them to the title. As far as the country’s former head coach Berti Vogts is concerned, there is little doubt that it will happen. The only question on 1974 World Cup winner’s mind is, who will make it to the final alongside the team representing the German Football Association (DFB)?
In summer, the German national team will be looking to set an historical record by winning first the World Cup and then the European Championship. To date the DFB team has only done the double the other way around – in 1972 when Germany won the Europeans and went on to secure the World Cup trophy two years later.
Berti Vogts once almost achieved the feat himself in 1992 when the reigning World Champions (1990) reached the final in Sweden but were sensationally beaten by rank outsiders Denmark.
Vogts, who four years later guided Germany to its last European title in England thanks to two goals scored by the national team’s present general manager Oliver Bierhoff, is confident the current squad will go one better that their predecessors in 1992.
For the 69-year old, the clear favourite in France is the DFB eleven, who in the preliminary group stage will face Ukraine, Northern Ireland and Poland whose side includes the Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski. “When you return home from Brazil as the World Champions and Europe’s second best team at the World Cup, Holland, hasn’t even qualified for the championships, there’s no question about it. It’s more a question of who will finish runners-up behind Germany,” said Vogts in an interview with the “Rheinischen Post” newspaper.
Though the Dutch will not be a part of the tournament starting on 10 June, a number of other nations are seen as being in with a definite chance of reaching the final in Paris on 10 July. Hosts France recently showed they are a force to be reckoned with and their World Cup triumph in 1996 is proof of the massive boost generated by a tournament on home soil. With title-holders Spain, Italy and Portugal also competing, it means three other regulars in the knock-out stages of major tournaments are also in the mix. Additionally, the young Belgian team are also highly fancied Europe-wide to do well and are third favourites with the bookies. England, the country with what is generally considered to be the world’s strongest league, is not really on Vogts’ list of contenders. “Players from the Premier League are not in the optimal physical shape at tournaments. England is always a favourite but when England left their island in the past, they almost always disappointed.”
Vogts’ reservations about the physical fitness of the pros playing in England therefore also has to apply to Mesut Özil. The midfielder, who is real “assist machine”, is having an outstanding season in the Premier League and as a result is playing virtually non-stop. He himself though does not doubt his ability to transfer his present top form to France. “Obviously I want to be in with a shout right to the very end with both Arsenal and Germany, no question. Most important for me is that the coach trusts me to come up with the goods – and he does. My job is then to repay Joachim Löw’s confidence in me,” he said when interviewed by “DFB.de”. Becoming a threat in front of goal himself is of no relevance for Europe’s top provider of goal scoring chances. “Whether the goals come from me of whether I lay them on is not that important. I don’t think I’ll be doing myself any good if I get it in my head to become more selfish in front of goal... And it’d be above all no good at all for my team.”
In 2015, the 27-year old was voted by Germany’s fans as the “National Player of the Year” for his style of play. It is an award that Özil has now won for the fourth time – and the honour is only in its sixth year. Bastian Schweinsteiger won in 2011 and Toni Kroos in 2014. In the European Championship year, the Gelsenkirchen-born player will be aiming to continue his excellent form and add another major title to his collection. “I’m very honoured to have received the award especially as it comes from the fans. At the same time it’s an enormous stimulus for me to carry on working hard in 2016 – especially as the Europeans in France are on the horizon. And we’re looking to do great things at EURO 2016.”
There is little time left to go before the start of the tournament and there will only be a short build up ahead of EURO 2016. For those players, unlike Özil, not so certain of a place in the squad, they will therefore have to recommend themselves in the national leagues. Up until Germany heads off for the training camp in Ascona, Switzerland, they only due to play two friendlies– but against real heavyweights: on 26 March (20.45 hrs local time), the DFB eleven will take on England in Berlin and then three days later Italy in Munich (also 20.45 hrs). Immediately before the tournament gets underway, the squad will then play warm-up matches against other championship participant s Hungary (29 May) and another still-to-be-decided opponent (4 June) as China were forced to withdraw.
And then things get “serious”. The chase for the historical double kicks off with Germany’s opening match against Ukraine on 12 June (21.00 hrs).