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Völler finding the right blend
After the satisfaction of qualifying for Portugal had passed, German thoughts turned back to four years ago. A wretched performance left them last in EURO 2000 Group A and the closing 3-0 defeat by Portugal marked a low point for Erich Ribbeck's side. This time round, they may have qualified unbeaten but defeats in 2003 against France, Italy and Spain show there remains room for improvement. 
Tuesday, 03 February 2004


Despite reaching the 2002 World Cup final it is with a necessary mixture of optimism and realism that Rudi Völler and his team are preparing to face Group D rivals Czech Republic, Latvia and the Netherlands in June. "It was clear that the group including the Netherlands would be the strongest," he said. "But this is no reason to complain as the sides at any EURO are more difficult than in a World Cup. We go to Portugal with confidence." 

Germany have plenty of options in attack with several talented players in contention for a starting place. Völler's most important decision will probably concern which forwards he selects and in which formation. During their qualifying campaign Germany used both a 3-5-2 system and a more traditional 4-4-2. 

The strikers are expected to be Kevin Kuranyi and the experienced Fredi Bobic. But the coach could also decide to use winger Oliver Neuville or Miroslav Klose, and 1860 München's Benny Lauth has also come into contention. 

Bobic is currently having a hard time with struggling Hertha Berlin but Stuttgart's Kuranyi has gained Champions League experience this season, and along with club-mate and defender Andreas Hinkel he represents a generation of promising youngsters including Arne Friedrich, Tobias Rau, Paul Freier, Daniel Bierofka, Fabian Ernst, Christian Rahn and Lauth. Völler is certain these players "will improve further" before the summer. 

At the back, Christian Wörns remains the linchpin. Frank Baumann is also reliable in the centre and the return of Jens Nowotny has given Völler another option. Hinkel and Friedrich compete on the right while Rau and Rahn are two candidates for the opposite flank. 

In midfield, Michael Ballack is Völler's playmaker together with the equally creative Dietmar Hamann, Bernd Schneider and Torsten Frings. Carsten Ramelow acts as the anchor with Sebastian Kehl as back-up. Sebastian Deisler may also come into contention if he can rediscover his mental strength. 

With captain Oliver Kahn in goal, Germany have an experienced spine of Kahn, Nowotny, Wörns and Bobic. Whether this provides the rest of the group with the necessary maturity will become clearer after the upcoming friendlies against Croatia, Belgium and Romania. But Völler says EURO 2000 will not be repeated. "We can challenge any opponent and we will put up a good performance," Völler said. "I promise."
- By Manfred Christoph




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