KLAGENFURT: The 2006 World Cup came too soon for Germany but two years older and two years wiser they showed in Sundays 2-0 win over Poland they are hitting Euro 2008 at their peak.
Germanys memorable run to the semi-finals at their home World Cup seemed to be powered mainly by the fervour of their supporters and coach Juergen Klinsmanns force of personality.
Klinsmann has gone but former assistant Joachim Loew has kept the focus on fast, fearless attacking football, backed by whole-hearted defence, and two goals from Lukas Podolski in their Group B opener brought an impressive win.
Germany next face Croatia before taking on co-hosts Austria and it is hard to see them failing to reach the quarter-finals.
We were highly concentrated and didnt make many mistakes, captain Michael Ballack said after the Poland match, and that was the big contrast between this game and their performances two years ago.
Centre-backs Per Mertesacker and Christoph Metzelder, who looked so insecure in the opening 4-2 win over Costa Rica at the World Cup, were calmness personified against the rugged Poles.
Ballack, backed by the tireless Torsten Frings, kept easy command of the midfield, while goalkeeper Jens Lehmann put a jittery start behind him to make a vital contribution, particularly with a reflex save to deny Marek Saganowski.
Klose, top scorer at the 2006 World Cup, did not find the net on Sunday but his darting runs created one chance for Mario Gomez that should have been a goal in the fourth minute and one that was in the 20th, when his pass gave Podolski a tap-in.
While those senior players have all improved in the past two years, Germans were concerned that Podolski, who won the best young player award at the World Cup, might have gone backwards.
They need not have worried, as the 23-year-old striker put two disappointing years at Bayern Munich behind him to improve his international record to 27 goals in 49 appearances.
German fans can also look forward to seeing more of midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger, who was not risked from the start on Sunday because of fitness concerns but came off the bench to create the havoc that led to Podolskis second goal.
There was also much to admire in the way Clemens Fritz got forward on the right of midfield. So much so, that Loew can finally say he has found a replacement for Bernd Schneider, who misses the tournament with a back injury.
Two years ago, Germany beat Poland 1-0 in the group stage thanks to a last-gasp goal from Oliver Neuville.
This was a much more artful win, and one that gives Germany real hope of landing a fourth European Championship. Reuters
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