BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany will seek to end a 16-year title drought at the Euro 2012 finals where much will depend on the performance of the team's brain: Bastian Schweinsteiger.
The experienced 27-year-old Bayern Munich midfielder, nicknamed the 'brain' by Germany coach Joachim Loew, is the team's natural leader and its barometer.
If he plays well the team usually wins. A slump in form, or injury, takes the shine off the young German team.
The three-time European champions are chasing a first title since 1996 and Schweinsteiger, whose formidable holding midfield partnership with Sami Khedira helped Germany to third place at the 2010 World Cup, is aware of the expectations.
"This is the best national team I have ever played for," Schweinsteiger, capped 90 times for Germany and going into his fifth major tournament, told reporters. "Everyone expects us to win the title and naturally it is something that we also desire."
The midfielder has also combined well with skilled Real Madrid playmaker Mesut Ozil and attack-minded teenager Mario Goetze in the German midfield, leading them to a flawless qualification with 10 wins in 10 games.
Strong, skilled, clever and in possession of a lethal right-foot shot, Schweinsteiger can be equally dangerous orchestrating breaks for the lightning-quick Germans or slicing open defences with pin-point passing.
The only thing missing now is a major title, for either club or country.
The current season, however, may not have been the one the gifted midfielder wished for, having missed two months since November with a broken collar bone.
He then picked up a ligament problem as well as a knee injury and was out twice more after the Bundesliga restart.
"He is the head of the team," said Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes, who recently compared him with Barcelona and Spain midfielders Xavi and Andres Iniesta.
"He gives the tempo, he steers our game and is very hard to replace. When he is not there then both our offensive and defensive game is affected."
Bayern already felt his absence when a three-point lead at the top of the Bundesliga going into the new year became a five-point deficit as the Bavarians stuttered at the restart without Schweinsteiger.
Germany also paid a price when he missed their friendly against France in February. They lost 2-1 after a lacklustre performance in Bremen.
Despite the disappointment of missing out on the Bundesliga title, this could still be a momentous year for Schweinsteiger if Bayern win the Champions League and Germany win the Euros. His dream of winning major titles is tantalisingly within reach for both club and country.
Editing by Tim Collings/Mike Collett