Germany's Draxler is missing piece in Loew's puzzle
LILLE, France (Reuters) - Germany's coach Joachim Loew looks to have found the last piece of his jigsaw as they eye a fourth European crown, with Julian Draxler sparking the attack into life in the 3-0 Euro 2016 win over Slovakia.
The 22-year-old, who was part of their 2014 World Cup-winning team, was on target for Germany's third goal in their last 16 clash on Sunday and wreaked havoc down the left wing, leaving the Slovak players in his wake.
"A great day for me and for the team," a beaming Draxler said. "I am happy to have helped the team. I have worked hard in training and am thankful for the coach's trust."
Draxler, a surprise inclusion in the World Cup squad in Brazil as a teenager, almost did not make the cut this time due to an injury late in the season and a less than convincing first campaign at VfL Wolfsburg.
Germany's feared strikeforece was stuttering in the group phase with three goals in three games despite repeated attempts from Loew to find the right mix in his front line.
Their backline was firing on all cylinders, having kept three clean sheets but scoring was becoming an issue with too many chances wasted as the knockout stage loomed.
On Sunday, Loew dropped Mario Goetze for the first time in the tournament after the attacking midfielder misfired in his previous three starts.
Instead, he opted for the speedy Draxler, who had started only the first group game against Ukraine, on the wing while also keeping forward Mario Gomez up front, and the coach was proved right with his attack looking sharper.
Draxler was a constant threat, with the Slovaks struggling to keep up. He outsprinted two players and shook off a third in the 43rd minute, cutting the ball back for Gomez to tap in Germany's second goal in a beautiful move.
Draxler was also key in gluing Loew's midfield and attack, which looked disjointed in their previous games, together.
He was repeatedly picked out by Jerome Boateng, with the defender's trademark deep long crosses landing at his feet and marking the start of yet another German attack.
The mix proved too explosive for Slovakia, who trailed by two goals at halftime, having found no way of stopping him.
The winger kept it up after the break and capped a sublime performance with a goal of his own, volleying in Mats Hummels header from close range to stake a claim to start in their quarter-final against either holders Spain or Italy.
"Obviously, I hope I can play again in the next game but for that you'll have to ask the coach," Draxler said.
(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Ken Ferris)