independent

Friday 18 April 2014

Low hoping victory will spark golden era

SO NEAR and yet so far. That's been the story of Germany's challenge in tournaments since they were last successful at Euro 96.

The 16 years of hurt is Germany's second-longest barren spell since they first got on the honours board with the 1954 World Cup. The longest drought was 18 years from 1954 but their 1972 European Championship started a period of domination with triumphs in 1974 and 1980 and Joachim Low will be hoping that once again when one trophy comes along the rest will swiftly follow.

It's not as if Germany have been awful, far from it, during their trophy hunt. They were World Cup runners-up in 2002, European Championship runners-up in 2008 and beaten semi-finalists in 2006, while in four of the last last five major tournaments the Nationalmannschaft have been beaten by the eventual champions.

Incredibly, the stereotypically cocky Germans could be accused of lacking a touch of self-belief and things could be even worse for the large Bayern Munich contingent following their devastating Champions League final defeat to Chelsea.

However, Chelsea showed when winning the competition that if you continue to put yourself into contention in knockout competitions then eventually something will drop your way.

And Germany are much stronger than they were in 2008 and 2010 when Spain beat them on both occasions.

Four years ago the team consisted of ageing stars, while two years ago the limited Per Mertesacker and Arne Friedrich formed the central-defensive pairing and the emergence of Mats Hummels should make a huge difference in that department.

Low's men were certainly awesome in a perfect qualifying campaign which saw them make an absolute mockery of what was supposed to be the toughest of all the groups. They qualified in first spot with tens wins out of ten, scoring 34 goals along the way and crushing decent yardsticks Turkey, Austria and the highly-rated young Belgian team.

No player in qualifying managed more assists than Mesut Ozil's tally of seven and Miroslav Klose (nine) and Mario Gomez (six) were among the highest-scorers in qualifying after sharing the starting duties.

Picking the No. 9 type striker is probably Low's most difficult decision and those looking to get stuck into the top-scorer betting markets will also be eager to find the answer because whoever gets the nod will have a magnificent chance of finishing as the leading marksman in Poland and Ukraine.

Klose, who won the 2006 Golden Boot, has been a stalwart of many international competitions with 15-goal Brazilian Ronaldo the only player to have scored more goals than the Lazio hitman in World Cups and he has never let Germany down.

However, Gomez is pushing hard and the Bayern forward has scored 54 goals in the last two Bundesliga campaigns and 12 in the Champions League this term, although he missed a number of glorious opportunities in the final which were to eventually cost the Munich men the trophy and nobody can be sure if that will count against him.

Super Mario is also earning a reputation as a bridesmaid rather than a bride. Gomez was runner-up in the Bundesliga, the Champions League and the German Cup and finished second in the domestic and European Golden Boot races too.

He and Germany won't settle for anything less than first this time.

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