Lille (France): Missing inspirational World Cup-winning captain Philipp Lahm, Germany begin Euro 2016 against Ukraine today with major doubts over whether they can reach the heights of Brazil two years ago.
Germany coach Joachim Loew talks to his players Thomas Mueller (left), Shkodran Mustafi and Mario Gomez (right) during a training session at Ermitage Evian in France on Thursday. Pic/Getty Images
The versatile Lahm retired from international football after the World Cup leaving a gap that coach Joachim Loew has found difficult to fill, whilst a series of injuries have further disrupted Germany's preparation.
Moreover, erratic form in qualifying and in the build-up to the Euros has eroded confidence in the world champions. Germany suffered away defeats to both Ireland and Poland in qualifying and threw away a two-goal lead to lose 3-2 at home to England in March.
An inexperienced side including several debutants lost to Slovakia last month before a full-strength side struggled to see off Hungary last Saturday.
"We saw that we've needed to turn one or two screws to make improvements," Loew said on Friday. "In a few situations (in the warm-up games) we weren't particularly dynamic or fresh."
Indeed, Loew has picked the youngest squad present in France with Borussia Dortmund star Marco Reus and Roma defender Antonio Ruediger missing out through injury.
Ruediger's absence may mean Bayern Munich's latest recruit from rivals Dortmund, Mats Hummels, may be rushed back to face Ukraine despite not featuring since tearing a calf muscle in his last game for his old club in the German Cup final on May 21.
Captain Bastian Schweinsteiger is set to only start on the bench in Lille today, having played just 23 minutes of football since the end of March after tearing a knee ligament. The Manchester United star came off the bench at the end of Germany's warm-up friendly win over Hungary last Saturday.
However, German assistant boss Thomas Schneider insisted Schweinsteiger is fit and highlighted the importance of his leadership to such a young squad. "In any case, Basti is fit," added Schneider.
Number of times Germany have lost to Ukraine in their previous five encounters (W2, D3)
The number of goals produced in last two clashes between Germany and Ukraine. Germany scored seven goals, while Ukraine found the net four times
> Joachim Loew's men have lost seven times since their win over Argentina in the Maracana two years ago
> Lost to Poland and Republic of Ireland in Euro qualifiers
> Were comprehensively beaten in international friendlies against England (in March) and Slovakia last month
> Injuries have left Germany's squad depleted for Euro 2016