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Germany are forewarned ahead of first knockout stage match

France's rainly weather has forced Germany into a change in plans. The team had to hold their final training prior to their knockout stage game against Slovakia at their home base in Evian.

Under normal conditions, Germany, like all of the other teams competing in the European championship travel to the venue of their next game a day ahead of time, to hold their final training session on the ground they play on 24 hours later.

This Sunday's round of 16 match against Slovakia in Lille is an exception. The pitch at the Stade Pierre Mauroy was so much the worse for wear following the last match played there, Ireland's 1-0 over Ireland, that UEFA decided to replace it. As a result, neither Germany nor Slovakia were allowed to hold their final practice there.

The hope is that the extra 24 hours will help the pitch settle, in time to provide a smooth and stable surface for the first match in which Germany's survival in the tournament will be on the line.

During Saturday morning's training session in Evian-les-Bains on the south shore of Lake Geneva, the eyes of the few journalists were focused on defender Jerome Boateng. After the 27-year-old Bayern man had trained on his own due to a calf-muscle problem on Friday, the fact that he trained with the team was interpreted as a sign that he would be able to start for Germany on Sunday, which is good news for head coach Joachim Löw.

Apart from this conclusion, there was precious little that the media representatives could glean from the 15 minutes of warm-ups that they were allowed to observe.

"He will play tomorrow," coach Löw confirmed to Germany's ARD public television before slipping off to get ready for the trip north.

Boateng was subbed off 76 minutes into

Germany's last Group C match, against Northern Ireland on Monday,

after sustaining a knock to his right calf. Until Saturday, he had remained a question mark for the Slovakia encounter. Löw, who has consistently played his cards close to his chest in terms of which starting lineup he will field, told ARD that he could make "one or two changes" to his squad.

Fußball Deutschland Slowakei

Joshua Kimmich made his national team debut in that water-logged game against Slovakia in Augsburg in May.

Among the question marks are Joshua Kimmich, who had a good outing against Northern Ireland in his first start for the national team at a major tournament, and veteran striker Mario Gomez, who rewarded Löw for giving him his first start in France with the winning goal.

Forewarned

On paper, the Germans are the clear favorites going into Sunday's match. The World Cup champions sit in fourth place in the FIFA rankings, 20 spots above Slovakia. However, taking Slovakia lightly must be virtually unthinkable for coach Löw and his men, particularly in light of their second-last friendly in the run-up to the tournament.

Slovakia's 3-1 win over Germany in Augsburg last month was the last time that the national team have failed to keep a clean sheet, with Marek Hamsik, Michael Duris und Juraj Kucka all beating the two keepers during that

thunderstorm-threatened match,

Bernd Leno and Marc-André ter Stegen.

To put things in perspective, Sunday's game will take place under very different circumstances – in a knockout round at a major tournament, as opposed to friendly, which was Löw's last chance to look at a team that he needed to get down to the 23-man roster required for said tournament.

Still, Germany's first-choice goalkeeper, Manuel Neuer, is well aware of the danger posed by Slovakia's Serie A star in particular.

"Everybody knows all about Hamsik's shots from distance, he scores pretty goals for Napoli," Neuer told reporters in Evian on Friday. "It will be important for our number six to pressure him early. But we can't just concentrate on one player; instead, we have to keep our eyes on the whole team."

The winner of Sunday's match will move on to play either Italy or European champions Spain in the quarterfinals.

Chance for revenge?

Also on Sunday, the hosts, France take on Ireland in Lyon, with some playing it up as an opportunity for the Irish to exact revenge for an incident in which Thierry Henry blatantly handled the ball before setting up William Gallas for the goal that denied Ireland qualification for the 2010 World Cup. Ireland manager Martin O'Neill, though, played down the sentiment.

"It is absolutely (extra motivation), but we've got all the motivation in the world here regardless of that, we've got a side that are prepared and actually love playing for their country and that's very, very important. It's a driving force," O'Neill said.

In Sunday's final match, in Toulouse, Hungary, led by German coach Bernd Storck and who surprised just about everybody by winning Group F, take on Belgium who finished second in Group E.

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