World Cup winners Germany commence their bid to claim the European crown against Ukraine this evening in Lille. The Germans will be strong favourites to make a winning start, although a growing injury list is sure to raise Ukrainian hopes of an upset.
Defence is undoubtedly the weakest link for manager Joachim Low going into the game, with a huge question mark surrounding the fitness of Mats Hummels who is struggling to shake off a calf problem. Antonio Rudiger would have been the ideal replacement at centre half, although he tore his cruciate ligaments in training last week and will miss the entire tournament.
Germany didn’t exactly set their qualifying group alight, going down to surprise defeats against Poland and the Republic of Ireland.
That is bound to lift Ukraine’s confidence and assistant coach Andriy Shevchenko believes strong organisation could provide the key to unlocking an unfamiliar looking German back four.
He told Uefa.com: “Ukraine are a well equipped and compact team. We have developed a certain style, and our opponents know it’s never easy against us.
“We do not concede many, we always play with great commitment, and we have top players like Andriy Yarmolenko and Yevhen Konoplyanka. I think this side has a good chance of getting through the group.”
Germany’s Hummels is set for a late fitness test and will be replaced by either Joshua Kimmich or Shkodran Mustafi if he misses out. Meanwhile, Low must decide whether to go with Mario Gomez or Mario Gotze up front.
Germany are unbeaten against Ukraine, winning two and drawing three. This is Germany’s 12th Euros, more than any other team. They have won it three times (1972, 1980, 1996), the most alongside Spain (1964, 2008, 2012).
Germany have won seven of their last nine games in the European Championships, losing twice (2008 final v Spain & 2012 semi-final v Italy).
Low has taken charge of 11 games as manager at the Euros, the joint-most alongside Berti Vogts. He has led Germany since 2006, the longest current tenure among managers who made it to Euro 2016.
This is the Ukraine’s second appearance at the European Championship finals. However, it’s the first time they’ve qualified for the tournament (they were co-hosts in 2012). Ukraine were knocked out in the group stages in their only previous appearance at the Euros finals (2012). Shevchenko is the only player so far to have scored for Ukraine at the Euros (2 goals).