Germans ready for the next step
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How times have changed. Only a short time ago, the mere mention of Germany among the world's most attractive attacking sides would have raised more than just a few eyebrows. Fast forward and with precisely 275 days to go until UEFA EURO 2012, the three-time world champions boast a hungry young squad bursting with individual talent.

Indeed, Joachim Low's ensemble have stormed through qualifying for next summer's continental showpiece in Poland/Ukraine with eight wins from as many games. No other team was able to book their place more quickly, including reigning world champions Spain and South Africa 2010 runners-up the Netherlands. Still, Low wouldn't be himself if he didn't attempt to play down the current wave of euphoria.

"Without question, the team has the quality to challenge for the title," he told German magazine kicker recently. "We've already proven we're among the best in the world, but the important thing now is that we don't lose our sense of reality. As delighted as we are with our development, our spectacular performances and the amount of competition for places in the squad, we have to keep our feet on the ground. We can't afford any delusions of grandeur."

A highly impressive 3-2 friendly victory over Brazil last month did little to quell the hype, while last Friday's 6-2 thrashing of Austria in qualifying definitively ensured Germany's name will be in the hat for the EURO 2012 group-stage draw in December. Star of the success against the five-time world champions was 19-year-old playmaker Mario Gotze, whose mentor in the squad Mesut Ozil, just three years his elder, dismantled neighbouring Austria almost single-handedly. The creative duo have become synonymous with the new, optimistic face of German football.

"The core of the team is still together, and has been enhanced by new, young players with excellent prospects: Mario Gotze for example," team manager Oliver Bierhoff told FIFA.com in a recent exclusive interview. "The team has matured and we've also undergone a change in mentality. I believe our players won't be satisfied with third place from now on."

The core of the team is still together, and has been enhanced by new, young players with excellent prospects: Mario Gotze for example.
Germany team manager Oliver Bierhoff

With the likes of Ozil, Gotze and Bayern Munich attacker Thomas Muller among their ranks, it is clear the Germans have far more individual quality than their stereotypical critics would care to admit. With their new-found balance of creativity, dynamism and discipline, 'Jogi's Youngsters' have every right to believe they can go all the way in eastern Europe next June/July. Ozil for one is convinced of the team's potential: "Our defeat at the World Cup was unlucky. You can see now that we're a lot stronger and much more consistent. Of course we're aiming for the title, and I truly believe we can do it."

The latest generation of German stars certainly appear ready to take the next step in their development. Experienced duo Bastian Schweinsteiger and Philipp Lahm (both 27) are approaching the pinnacle of their respective careers, while Ozil, Gotze and Muller all possess an unpredictability factor crucial to deciding games at the very highest level. Even Tuesday's disappointing 2-2 friendly draw in Poland was digested philosophically by Low, who is anxious for his side not to peak until next summer - or indeed the 2014 FIFA World Cup™ in Brazil.

Following narrow defeats against all-conquering Spain at both EURO 2008 and South Africa 2010, another perfect qualification campaign has given Lahm and co every reason to believe that they can go one better in Poland/Ukraine. "We've developed a style of our own, and the idea is to replace the Spanish, not copy them," added Bierhoff, clearly enthused by what promises to be an exciting new era in the illustrious history of the German national team.

"That would be a false move and arguably the wrong solution, because Spain simply boast such fantastic footballers. You could describe our style as a little more dynamic, based less on long spells in possession, and more on rapid switching from defence to attack and an aggressive approach."