Euro 2016: Germany vs Slovakia - 5 players to watch out for
Can Slovakia cause a massive upset in Lille, knocking out the world champions?
As the countdown to the first game began in earnest, Jan Kozak’s Slovakia side travelled to Augsburg to face Joachim Löw’s Germany in their penultimate preparatory friendly. The odds were stacked against them, but the result must have been the last thing on Kozak’s list of priorities that night. Come the end of 90 minutes though, a Marek Hamsik-inspired Slovakia had run the world champions ragged and stunned the football world alike.
Fast forward a month and the two teams are set to face off again at Lille’s Stade Pierre-Mauroy in a round-of-16 clash of the UEFA Euro 2016. Not much has changed as the Germans remain the firm favourites to seal a quarterfinal berth, Slovakia the underdogs. But the stakes have never been much higher: it’s either boom-or-bust!
In a high-pressure knockout clash, the gulf between the qualities of certain individuals may come to the fore and as such the performance of these 5 players on the night may well determine the outcome:
#1 Thomas Müller
Germany entered the Euros as pre-tournament favourites and were widely expected to coast through the group stages. Though unbeaten, the world champions have struggled to convert their chances. Given their group opponents, the fact that Germany managed just three goals is a worrying stat.
One of the most baffling mysteries is the sharp dip in the performances of Thomas Muller. He arrived in France on the back of his best season yet at Bayern Munich, scoring an impressive 32 goals, leading the German giants to a historic domestic double.
But he is yet to find the back of the net at the Euros, stretching back to the last edition of the Championships in Poland and Ukraine.
Joachim Löw will once again face a major tactical decision: whether to opt for a natural forward in Mario Gomez upfront or continue with the much maligned ‘false nine’ formation with either Muller or Gotze leading the line.
Given Muller’s natural poaching instincts and off-the-ball ability to stretch the defenders, creating space for his team mates to exploit, the Bayern man remains an essential cog to Germany’s success.