Rabu, 25 Juni 2008


Germany may have raised eyebrows by playing so impressively to eliminate fancied Portugal and reach the semi-finals, but not those of Ottmar Hitzfeld. The man who masterminded FC Bayern München's recent double-winning season believes the Mannschaft will also overcome Turkey tonight before lifting the UEFA European Championship trophy for a fourth time in Vienna on Sunday.

"I expected them to reach the semis, as I always said that Germany had the chance to become European champions," said Hitzfeld, who takes over as Switzerland coach next month after ending a second successful spell as Bayern boss. "They finished third at the [FIFA] World Cup two years ago, and were a young team then which has evolved further. Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Lukas Podolski have all matured, and Michael Ballack has become a great leader. Germany are a team which always gets better as a tournament progresses – they didn't convince in the group stage but came back impressively against Portugal. I predict they will be in the final and become champions."

Merkel advice
Having been sent off against Croatia, Schweinsteiger found himself sat next to German chancellor Angela Merkel for the Group B decider against Austria. Germany won 1-0 to advance to a meeting with Portugal in which the midfielder – who had been told "not to do anything stupid again" by Merkel – scored one goal and set up others for Miroslav Klose and Ballack. Hitzfeld, who watched Schweinsteiger develop through the Bayern youth ranks, said of the 23-year-old: "He had a break after the red card and then came back imposingly against Portugal. He's improved through the tournament but has not shown his full potential yet. He's a perfect player technically, and I'm happy he scored a nice goal against Portugal – especially as he sprinted forward like a striker which is not his game. He has great potential and can be a match-winner for Germany."

Should Germany triumph at St. Jakob-Park tonight they would progress to Sunday's final where they would face either Spain or Russia, two teams to have caught Hitzfeld's eye: "Like every football fan, I've really enjoyed some great matches at EURO. Some teams like Russia and Spain have exceeded expectations during this tournament by playing some marvellous attacking football. [David] Villa from Spain has scored four times already and is a real talent. [Andrei] Arshavin is very strong as well, a world-class player, as we saw when [FC] Zenit St. Petersburg beat Bayern [in the UEFA Cup semi-finals]. There have been many great players, and Ballack has played a great tournament as Germany captain."

Tactical nous

One of only two men to have coached two clubs to success in the European Champion Clubs' Cup, the 59-year-old Hitzfeld is an ambassador for the Castrol Performance Index, which is helping euro2008.com present a new level of statistical analysis from these finals. He has been impressed by the tactical nous of his colleagues in Austria and Switzerland, reserving special praise for those preparing for last-four ties. "All the coaches in the semis have done a great job. 'Jogi' Löw has changed his 4-4-2 philosophy to the 4-2-3-1 that most other countries use. [Luis] Aragonés has performed really well to guide Spain to the semis for the first time in 24 years. [Guus] Hiddink's Russia's are the outsiders and then there is [Fatih] Terim, of course, who constantly gives passion to his Turkey side to drive them forward."

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