Chelsea star and Germany captain Michael Ballack will be playing against Poland to revive the spirit of the 2006 World Cup and end a bleak run at the European Championship finals. He looks to have been back to his commanding best in recent matches for Chelsea.
Germany last won a match in these championships in the 1996 final and even their unbeaten record against Poland (11 wins and four draws in 15 games since 1933) will not stop them feeling jittery heading into their Group B opener in Klagenfurt.
In an interview with Reuters Ballack said “You’re always nervous,”
“However much we insist we can end this black series at the Euros we can’t promise victory,” he added at a news conference.
“But we know we’ve worked as hard as possible to get here. We have to show bite, will-power and positive aggression.”
Germany, three-times European champions, beat Poland in the group phase of their home World Cup two years ago and Ballack believes a win could set off another wave of euphoria back home.
“The mood could be even better this time,” said the midfielder.
Coach Joachim Loew, who replaced Juergen Klinsmann after that memorable month in 2006, urged caution against a Poland side coached by Dutchman Leo Beenhakker.
“We were lucky to beat Poland last time,” said Loew, remembering it took a 91st-minute goal from substitute Oliver Neuville to seal a 1-0 victory.
“They offered tremendous resistance and two years on they’re a much stronger side under Beenhakker.”
Poland did indeed look strong in qualifying, where they finished ahead of Portugal, and the coach said that achievement would give them confidence.
“We have our own philosophy and we are not going to change it just because we are up against Germany,” Beenhakker said.
“The players are completely relaxed, there is no stress and we are looking forward to the challenge.”
Speaking about Ballack, the Dutchman said: “He can only hurt us when he has the ball so we’ll try to deny him possession”.
Lukasz Piszczek has been added to Poland’s squad after winger Jakub Blaszczykowski dropped out on Thursday with a hamstring injury.
A day later, injured keeper Tomasz Kuszczak was also ruled out of the finals. Poland was awaiting UEFA permission to call up Wojciech Kowalewski as a replacement.
Germany has no injury worries but Loew must decide whether to play Lukas Podolski alongside his fellow Polish-born striker Miroslav Klose or go for Mario Gomez.
Podolski could also drop back to left-midfield in place of Bastian Schweinsteiger.