For the last two major international tournaments, there has been a villain staring at Germany. That villain didn't budge. That villain didn't even flinch.
One - Zero.
One - Zero.
Spain were crowned European and World Champions at the expense of Germany (final and semifinal). We were introduced and inundated with the "era of Spanish football" and their tiki-taka football. If you didn't worship the ground on which they walked, you were called "anti-football".
Germany have a clear target this summer of winning the European Championship. Finishing as runners up again is unacceptable, and the players are very aware of this. They dominated their qualifying group with 10 wins, 0 draws and 0 losses with a +27 goal differential. The group included Turkey and Belgium.
One could say that this group of German players is poised to emulate over the next four years exactly what Spain has accomplished. Players like Philipp Lahm, Miroslav Klose, Lukas Podolski, and Bastian Schweinsteiger have been through the battles at the club and international level. As the veteran players on the team, they are properly equipped to guide the younger (yet experienced) players through this tournament.
Joachim Löw has turned the keys of his attack over to Mesut Özil, and the midfielder has not failed to deliver in the Die Mannschaft strip. His presence in the middle of the pitch allows Podolski and Thomas Müller to cut in from their wide positions and cause havoc against the opposition defense. Since moving to La Liga, Özil has refined his craft and is set to lead this offense on the European stage.
The real questions for this squad is in defense. Figuring out exactly which player will partner Holger Badstuber at centerback has been an issue. Löw seems to favor Per Mertesacker over Mats Hummels and Benedikt Höwedes. Hummels has failed to impress on the opportunities he has received in a Germany shirt. Yes, Mertesacker is slow and rather poor in the air for someone his size, but Germany will hope that Badstuber can cover his mistakes.
Putting a solid base underneath all of that attacking talent, if the defense holds and plays well, Germany will be there in the end.
Projected lineup (4-2-3-1)
GK: Manuel Neuer; LB: Philipp Lahm; CB: Holger Badstuber; CB: Per Mertesacker; RB: Jerome Boateng; CM: Sami Khedira; CM: Bastian Schweinsteiger; LM: Lukas Podolski; CAM: Mesut Özil; RM: Thomas Müller; F: Mario Gomez
Mesut Özil: You could go several different ways with the key player for Germany, but I lean toward the Real Madrid midfielder as the guy to keep your eye on in the European Championship. Özil is the key figure in the German attack. He finished the seasons with 7 goals and 24 assists in all competitions. After "coming out" at the 2010 World Cup, Özil had a fantastic qualifying campaign and will be looking to carry that into this tournament.
Final: Germany are one of the two favorites (along with Spain) to win the European Championship this year. Anything less than that will be seen as a disappointment. Will Mertesacker last at centerback or will Joachim Löw be forced to move Mats Hummels there? The group is by far the most difficult, and Germany could easily slip up against the Netherlands or Portugal. The goals should come for this team. The thing to be slightly worried about is the defense. There is only one prediction to make here: Germany will win the European Championship.