BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany go into Euro 2012 among the favourites, but this time it has less to do with past successes and more to do with their modern game that has won over legions of new fans.
The three-time European champions have been without a major trophy for 16 years, despite being tagged favourites at most tournaments since 1996.
This time round, however, their Euro group rivals, - Netherlands, Portugal and Denmark - will come up against one of the youngest, fastest and most furious German teams in at least a generation.
Players like Thomas Mueller, Mesut Ozil, Sami Khedira and goalkeeper Manuel Neuer quickly made a name for themselves at the 2010 World Cup with a dazzling display of fast-paced football and lethal finishing that saw them crush England 4-1 and Argentina 4-0 en route to a third-place finish.
The vast majority of coach Joachim Loew’s players were just youngsters when Oliver Bierhoff, now the team’s manager, scored a golden goal to hand Germany the Euro trophy in 1996.
Many of them were mere toddlers when Franz Beckenbauer coached the national side to their last of their three World Cup wins in 1990.
“It is clear that Germany go into such tournaments always as favourites,” Loew said. “But it is also clear that there is not just one favourite, not just Germany. I have often said there is Spain, Italy, France, they are all among those capable of winning it.”
On a good day Germany have shown they can beat any defence, having won all 10 of their Euro qualifiers and scored victories in friendlies over big names like Brazil, Netherlands and Uruguay in the past months.
“We have learned to take possession of the ball as quickly as possible. Our game has become more modern,” said captain Philipp Lahm, at 28 one of the oldest in the team. “Of course, Spain remain the favourites.”
Defensively, Germany have more options than ever with Borussia Dortmund’s Mats Hummels adding steel in the centre of defence where Arsenal’s Per Mertesacker looks to be in danger of losing his starting spot after damaging his ankle and foot playing for Arsenal in February. Dortmund’s Marcel Schmelzer is also set to make the squad.
Loew has an impressive luxury of choice in midfield where Khedira and Bastian Schweinsteiger have forged an efficient holding partnership.
Goetze, 20, and Real Madrid playmaker Ozil have combined well with Toni Kroos, bringing skills that mesh perfectly with the pace of Lukas Podolski, Thomas Mueller, Marco Reus and Andre Schuerrle on the wings.
Lars and Sven Bender have also worked themselves into contention with the twins available for all-round midfield assignments.
Mario Gomez has blossomed into a formidable weapon over the past two seasons with the Bayern Munich forward scoring at will in the Bundesliga and the Champions League.
Forward Miroslav Klose will also vie for the starting spot in Loew’s 4-2-3-1 system, looking to crack Gerd Mueller’s all-time Germany goal record of 68. Klose has 63 goals from 116 international appearances.
“We have the luxury of having almost every position covered twice,” Loew said.
A 2-1 defeat by France in February did little to dampen enthusiasm in the football-mad country who see their team ready to win yet another trophy.
Editing by Tim Collings