Germany's women go into their second group stage match wondering where the goals will come from. Having failed to score in their draw against Sweden, they will be up against what promises to be an even tighter defense.
Although another tie would in theory at least, keep the Germans in the hunt for a top two finish in Group A - which would see them advance to the semifinals of the Women's Euro, they will be out to take all three points against Italy on Friday. That way, their fate would remain entirely in their own hands.
"It's crystal clear: Now we have to win," goalkeeper Almuth Schult said at the German women's team's camp at Tilburg.
"I hope that we break the ice and score a goal," Schult said. "Then things will work."
However, the head coach, Steffi Jones, who is leading the team in her first major tournament since taking over from Silvia Neid after last summer's Rio Games, warned that the Italian defense would likely be even more difficult to break down than the Swedes.
"We expect our opponents to be set up to play very deep and compact," she said. "The Italians work with a lot of long balls and they will try to beat us on the counter."
Jones also said her players were prepared for a team that would be "very scrappy in the tackles," while Schult warned that she and her teammates must not allow themselves to be goaded into stupid fouls.
Injury woes up front
The coach's most pressing question, though, appears to be who will line up alongside striker Anja Mittag. Not only was Jones forced to leave Alexandra Popp off the rosters after she sustained a knee injury in the run-up to the tournament, Svenja Huth also went down with a thigh injury in the Sweden match.
The most likely candidates to fill in are Mandy Islacker, who moved from FFC Frankfurt to Bayern Munich this summer, and Hasret Kayikci of SC Freiburg. Islacker, 28, is the more experienced of the two on the national team, having scored five goals in 16 appearances. She is also a bit more of a physical presence than Kayikci, 25 (one goal in five appearances). Both featured as subs, and got involved going forward, against Sweden.
Defensive general Babett Peter expressed confidence that Germany would get onto the scoreboard.
"We still have enough players with enough quality to find solutions despite [the injuries]," she said. At the same time she warned that Germany could not afford to go forward to the detriment of their responsibilities at the back.
"It's not so easy to maintain your focus for the full 90 minutes when there is a lot of pressure on your defense," she said, adding that she and her defensive mates would simply have to execute, when any crucial situation develops.
Italy confident of getting a result
As for the Italians, they appear confident of getting a result, despite the fact that they are 16 places behind the German women (who are 2nd) in the FIFA rankings - and have never beaten the Germans in 12 previous attempts.
"We know that Germany and Sweden are the strongest teams in our group," striker Ilaria Mauro said. "But we will fight hard and try to get a win against Germany. I am confident that we can do this."
Having been upset by Russia in their opening match, leaving them bottom of the table with 0 points, the Italians are arguably under even more pressure than the Germans to secure three points in the Willem II Stadium in Tilburg.
pfd/msh (dpa, SID)