German players and fans alike are crossing their fingers that this year will be one for the history books - the whole country is hoping for the Euro 2012 title.
The German national soccer team settled down earlier this week in its Euro 2012 headquarters at a swanky hotel near the Polish city of Gdansk. The final preparatory friendlies have been played, any lingering injuries carried over from club competition appear to have been brought under control.
Now all that's left for the current crop of Germany's national players is to lace up their boots and get this long-awaited tournament underway, hoping that this will finally be the year they immortalize themselves as German football legends.
So far, the era of Joachim Löw as Germany's head coach has been bittersweet for Germany in major tournaments: they played brilliant football, but twice lacked the final piece of the puzzle to bring home the titles.
The elusive titles of 2008 and 2010
Löw was an assistant under Jürgen Klinsmann when the team took third at the World Cup in 2006, a tournament where Germany enjoyed the role of hosts.
The tournament was a success with fans, rekindling passion for the national team, and the disappointing third place finish came with an attitude of 'we'll get 'em next time.'
And they nearly did. With Löw at the helm of his first international tournament with the team, Germany made it to the final of the Euro 2008, only to fall to Spain in the final.
That put expectations even higher for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, but made the disappointment more bitter when Germany only managed third, losing once again to Spain.
Tournaments under Löw have been a frustrating mix of would-haves, could-haves, and should-haves. Heading into the Euro 2012, the prevailing attitude is that enough is enough: it's trophy time.
"We just barely missed out in 2008 and 2010," said Löw recently. "Now we're ready to take the next step."
Among the best
Germany are without a doubt one of the favorites for the tournament co-hosted by Poland and Ukraine. They breezed through ten qualifying matches, winning every single one, and have assembled the youngest squad of any of the 16 teams taking part. Spain, as defending champs, are still the team with a target on their backs, but they aren't the towering titans they were in 2008 and 2010.
"Spain are still the team to beat," Löw said, "but there are signs that other countries are catching up. We are among them."
Löw added that his side have the confidence to say "we can get pretty far" in the tournament.
That seems like a likely scenario, even if Germany must play through the toughest group round of the tournament against Portugal, the Netherlands, and Denmark. Barring the nightmare scenario that Germany fails to advance out of the group stage, which happened in 2004, Germany are likely to put on another display of entertaining, quality football. The team's play in South Africa was considered - and not only by Germans - to be the best of the tournament, even if it only landed them a third place finish.
No lack of firepower
Offensively, Germany have an imposing arsenal. Long-time national team striker Miroslav Klose, with 63 goals in his career for Germany, joins Mario Gomez as the two options in the front of Germany's attack.
Anchored by vice-captain Bastian Schweinsteiger, Germany's midfield is world-class. Here, Löw has the luxury to mix and match his midfielders: Mesut Özil, Sami Khedira, Thomas Müller, Mario Götze, Toni Kroos, Lukas Podolski and Maroc Reus can all from a strong core to what Schweinsteiger calls "the best team I've ever been a part of."
Löw isn't shy about the attacking potential of his team, saying "offensively, we can play at a fantastically high level."
"We constantly want to be playing forward," he added. "I'd rather win 4-2 than 1-0."
High scores at the Euro 2012 would also help protect Germany's Achilles heel: a shaky defense that is prone to costly blunders. Outside of captain Philipp Lahm, the rest of Germany's back-four could vary as the tournament goes on.
Two weekends ago, Löw tested out a back line of Marcel Schmelzer, Mats Hummels, Per Mertesacker, and Benedikt Höwedes in a friendly with Switzerland. Germany lost 5-3. Only Mertesacker returned for Germany's final tune-up last Thursday against Israel, a 2-0 win that saw Jerome Boateng start instead Schmelzer, Holgar Badstuber for Hummels, and Lahm for Höwedes.
"We've still got to work on that," said Löw, referring to the team's defense. "In some game's we aren't exactly brilliant."
There is some consolation, however, that if Germany's defense should have a lapse or two of concentration, they're backed by arguably the best keeper in the tournament, Manuel Neuer.
The time is right
Questions surrounding the defense are only likely to come into play if Germany fails to steer the games in their direction and play the attacking football that suits them. When Germany are firing on all cylinders, they play a fast and fluid game that clearly marks them as contenders.
It's been sixteen years since Germany's last international title, won at the Euro 1996 in England. That brought their total number of European titles to three (in addition to 1972 and 1980).
The team is certainly due for a fourth, and the meticulous Löw has painstakingly assembled a team that has the talent and drive to pull it off.
Author: Matt Zuvela
Editor: Rina Goldenberg