The German national soccer team went some way to repairing its damaged reputation on Thursday by beating Malta 7-0 in a friendly match as part of its Euro 2004 preparations.
Looking a lot happier than in Romania last month
In a recent television interview, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder warned Germany's European soccer rivals that the national team should not be underestimated going into the Euro 2004 tournament in Portugal in June.
In what could have been a reiteration of the chancellor's statement, Rudi Völler's team did more than enough on Thursday night to suggest last month's stunning 5-1 loss to non-qualifier Romania could well be a turning point in their fortunes.
The clear victory was tempered somewhat by the news that midfielder Paul Freier would most likely miss the Euro tournament after injuring himself during the game. Freier's injury means that Völler is likely to nominate teen sensation Lukas Podolski, a striker for Under 21 team, to the national team.
Völler has praised Podolski, 18, and acknowledged he is a hot candidate for the final spot on the national team, which Völler left open after naming his squad this week. With Freier out, Podolski is all but guaranteed a nomination, leaving Völler with more choices to fill his final spot.
Stand and deliver
Germany finally stepped up to be counted in the friendly game against Malta in Freiburg's Dreisam stadium and, despite facing a team of part-timers who were reduced to 10 men for the last 12 minutes of the match, dispatched the opposition with an overwhelming display which culminated in an impressive 7-0 victory.
Malta's team was no match for the Germans who were driven on by midfielder Michael Ballack who put on a personal master class which must have reminded those who had forgotten why he was once rated so highly after his outstanding performances in the 2002 World Cup. The Bayern Munich star scored twice in each half to increase his international total to 19 goals in 39 matches.
Four-goal Ballack regains confidence
Ballack looks to be growing in confidence after a bad season.
Ballack opened the scoring with a low shot from 20 yards after 15 minutes and as the increasingly one-sided game progressed, the player who had faced much criticism this season added three more goals to the tally all from headers.
The Germans were rarely troubled by the visitors despite missing central defender Christian Wörns, who is fighting to be fit for the upcoming European Championships as he battles with a hip injury, and first choice goalkeeper and captain Oliver Kahn, who was rested. Striker Thomas Brdaric, the surprise package of Rudi Völler's squad for Portugal, sat out the match with a thigh muscle strain.
Fabian Ernst and Frank Baumann, two Euro 2004 squad members from recently crowned Bundesliga champions Werder Bremen, were not available for the game due to their club's involvement in the German Cup final against second division Alemannia Aachen which is to be played on Saturday.
Attacking spectacle stuns opposition and fans
Germany's Fredi Bobic got on the score sheet against Malta.
Germany swarmed over the visitors in energetic attacking waves for most of the match leaving Malta -- and the pleasantly surprised home crowd -- breathless. As the Maltese eventually succumbed and crumbled, Jens Nowotny, Torsten Frings and Fredi Bobic (photo) all weighed in with goals as Germany made a valiant attempt to exorcise the ghosts of Bucharest.
Germany had been all but written off after the dramatic thrashing at the hands of a young Romanian side in April. Retreating to a Black Forest hideaway on Tuesday to prepare after the close of the league season, Völler gathered his team together to plot their resurgence away from a media that has become increasingly scathing since the World Cup defeat at the hands of Brazil two years ago and which reached fever pitch after the heavy loss last month.
Speaking before Thursday night's game, the coach was well aware of what was required: "The team has to deliver after the ominous match in Romania. The 5-1 loss did us harm. We must overcome this. One must feel that we are hot for Euro 2004."
Beckenbauer offers cautious opinion
Völler not only has the weight of a country's expectation and a ravenous press to convince but also some of his contemporaries who have voiced their skepticism over Germany's chances. German soccer monarch Franz Beckenbauer recently declared that a semi-final place was the most he could hope for. "If Rudi Völler's team can survive the first round, they might be able to reach the semifinals," he said. However, the former national coach and player conceded that he was willing to be proved wrong: "The past has shown that the Germans are a tournament team."
Rudi Völler has faced a tough time from all quarters as Germany's form has dipped.
The current coach will take heart from the 7-0 victory over Malta but will appreciate there are much tougher challenges ahead and will prepare accordingly. "We will train in such a way that the players will be in top shape in Portugal. I know that the players won't be happy, but it is important," Völler said.
Coach to work players hard
"It is important that key players like Ballack go into the tournament in top form - not only physically, but mentally as well." Four goals for the Bayern playmaker will have gone a long way to restoring his confidence ahead of the championships.
Germany's first match in a tough qualifying pool known as the "Group of Death" is against the Netherlands on June 15. Germany also plays the Czech Republic and newcomer Latvia in the group stage.
The team will fly out to Portugal six days before the Holland match after the final two games of its preparation schedule against fellow qualifier Switzerland on June 2 and Hungary on June 6.ated in the imminent Euro 2004 tournament in Portugal. In what could have been a reiteration of the chancellor's statement, Rudi Völler's team did more than enough on Thursday night to suggest last month's stunning 5-1 loss to non-qualifier Romania could well be a turning point in their fortunes.