Germans should recover from Word Cup hangover
As the reigning world champions, Germany are naturally among the favourites to win the European Championship title, yet their aura of invincibility has been dented during an inconsistent qualification campaign. All is far from serene with Joachim Low's side.
They may have become the first European nation to win a World Cup in South America, but the hangover from Brazil has been difficult to shake. At times over the last two years they have has given the impression they are still drunk on World Cup success, with slip-ups souring their performances in competitive and friendly fixtures. They have been in the final four at the last four World Cups, were runners-up in the Euros in 2008 and lost to Italy in the semi-final four years ago, yet there are cracks in their armour.
Germany spluttered their way through a tame group. They were beaten by Poland, were fortunate to beat Scotland twice and dropped five points against the Republic of Ireland, losing 1-0 in Dublin and drawing in Gelsenkirchen. They were complacent in March, beaten 3-2 at home by England, having led the game 2-0. And last month, in Augsburg, they were shocking in a 3-1 defeat to Slovakia.
Former Germany international Didi Hamann expects better from Low's team now the real action is beginning, with Ukraine their first opponents this afternoon. Making history will be the Germans' motivation.
Hamann said: "They are the defending world champions and holding both titles at the same time is the next objective. The bookies are right to make them favourites, but I'm slightly cautious. If you look at the squad, it was decimated after the World Cup. They have lost something like 500 caps, with [Per] Mertesacker, [Philipp] Lahm and [Miroslav] Klose retiring.
"I wouldn't read too much into the qualifying campaign. There is always a bit of a hangover when you win a World Cup and teams try even harder to prove they can compete against you. All you have to do is make sure you get out of the group, which they did. I think you will see a better German team now because the players will not have to worry about their clubs. The tournament will bring out the best in them."
Germany have never been world and European champions at the same time and this generation will secure legendary status if they lift the trophy in Paris on July 10. "That is a huge incentive," said Hamann. "To become the first team to do that, that is something special."
As well as losing senior players they have injury problems too, not least in midfield, where key men Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira are lacking match fitness.
Although Germany may look less foreboding than they should, they will still be the team everyone wants to avoid in the knockout phase.
Germany are never weak when united - and they never seem to be divided.
"I think it is because we are brought up to see football as a team game," Hamann said.
"The needs of the team always come before the needs of the individual. That's the German way."