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Die Mannschaft is the team to beat at Euro

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That Germany is a favourite, if not the favourite, to win the 2012 European Championship is news to no one who follows international soccer.

Theirs is a squad blessed with depth; they have an abundance of attacking options, and despite a defence that has its share of wobbles there is a system in place that ensures the maximum contribution is supplied by every player in the team.

On paper the only side that can truly match the Germans in these areas is Spain, which is appropriate given that Germany are poised to mimic a Spanish soccer ascendancy that began four years ago in Austria and Switzerland.

Spain was an obvious contender at the outset of Euro 2008 -- a notion derived from a successful qualification campaign but especially from an impressive performance at the World Cup two years prior. Spanish hopes were high at the competition, and on the final day they beat Germany 1-0 and lifted the trophy in Vienna. Two years later they won the World Cup.

To hold World Cup and European titles simultaneously is a rare thing, and when Spain completed the double in 2010 they achieved a dynasty status that only France and West Germany had accomplished previously.

The current German side, under manager Joachim Lw, could well be the next team to rise into such rarefied air, and like Spain four years ago their stellar qualification campaign and impressive World Cup run are the most obvious signals that glory awaits.

Germany will get its Euro 2012 schedule underway today against Portugal in Lviv (1:30 p.m., TSN). Lw, for the most part, knows exactly which players he'll be deploying in the Group B match, and also how he'll be using them. Few national team managers can say the same thing going into a major tournament, and it's this sort of assurance that has so many people convinced Die Mannschaft will go far in Poland and Ukraine.

No team in international soccer plays the 4-2-3-1 formation as well as Germany; no team in international soccer has players more suited to the system they've been asked to play.

Mesut Ozil, who plays his club soccer for Real Madrid, will operate in the centre of the "3" with Thomas Muller and Lukas Podolski on either side. Mario Gomez will start in front of them. Fluency is the trademark of this attacking quartet, and while they'll start from their assigned positions their interplay will drive opposing defensive units crazy.

Defence, as it turns out, is the only question-mark hovering over Lw's squad, which is why it's so important that Bastian Schweinsteiger is fit to play today's match. The Bayern Munich midfielder, along with Sami Khedira, will shield central defenders Holger Badstuber and Per Mertesacker and also get forward to support the attack when the occasion arises. Captain Philipp Lahm and Bayern teammate Jerome Boateng will play in the full-back positions.

Like Spain, this German team has an identity -- a priceless commodity at international level. The Spanish pride themselves on retaining possession and spreading the ball about effortlessly -- making the opponent do most of the running. They have a handful of artist-playmakers who can pass among themselves for long stretches before making something brilliant happen.

The Germans, meanwhile, are tactically educated and well-rehearsed in their roles. They are quick on the ball and fascinating to watch.

They may also share a common identity with the Spanish before long--that of European Champions. And, who knows? Perhaps World Cup winners two years after that.

Euro notebook

-- It took almost 24 hours, but on Friday UEFA conceded a racist incident had, in fact, occurred during a Thursday training session where a handful of Dutch players were subjected to abuse from a section of onlookers. In a statement, European soccer's governing body said it would "evaluate operational measures to be taken to protect players" at future training sessions, which are open to the public. UEFA has empowered its referees to handle in-match racial incidents according to their discretion. The real worry, however, is that racial harassment will take place outside the stadiums before and after matches.

-- It's a common question: Why would UEFA award a major tournament to a region of the continent where racial discrimination is unfortunately more common than it is elsewhere? And while there's no easy answer, and certainly no justification, it's worth pointing out that UEFA's (and FIFA's) policy of inclusivity has brought unprecedented scrutiny on both Poland and Ukraine -- something that wouldn't have happened if major soccer matches weren't being played in those countries. Twitter @peterssoccer

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 9, 2012 C9

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