Germany looks to shore up defense ahead of Poland clash
EVIAN-LES-BAINS, France (AP) Germany needs to focus on its defensive weaknesses as it prepares to play Poland, the top-scorers in qualifying for the European Championship.
The world champions opened their campaign Sunday with a 2-0 win against Ukraine but were grateful to goalkeeper Manuel Neuer for three outstanding saves and Jerome Boateng for a goal-line clearance.
Poland, which is led by qualifying top scorer Robert Lewandowski, will present a bigger challenge for Germany's defense with both sides eyeing first place in Group C on Thursday at the Stade de France. Poland also won its first match, beating Northern Ireland 1-1.
''We have to be careful,'' Boateng said at the team's tournament base at Evian-les-Bains on Tuesday. ''They have good offensive people and not just Lewandowski.''
One positive development for Germany is that defender Mats Hummels is fit after recovering from a calf injury he sustained in the German Cup final last month in his last game for Borussia Dortmund.
Germany coach Joachim Loew needs to decide whether to risk Hummels, who hasn't played in almost four weeks, or continue with his stop-gap solution of Shkodran Mustafi partnering Boateng in central defense.
Mustafi opened the scoring against Ukraine but looked vulnerable at times against speedy wingers Andriy Yarmolenko and Yevhen Konoplyanka, and the Valencia defender almost gifted a late equalizer in a mix-up with Neuer.
Bayern Munich midfielder Joshua Kimmich could also fill in, as could Bayer Leverkusen's Jonathan Tah, though both players are short of experience. The 20-year-old Tah was a late call up for original Hummels-replacement Antonio Ruediger, who tore a cruciate ligament in his right knee in training.
Poland's victory over Northern Ireland in Nice on Sunday was the country's fist victory at a European Championship. The team is unlikely to be overawed after beating Germany in qualifying - its first win over its neighbor in 19 games.
Lewandowski said it is ''the best Polish team in which I have ever played.''
Lewandowski is partnered in attack by Ajax striker Arkadiusz Milik, familiar to Bundesliga fans from his time at Leverkusen and Augsburg. Though Lewandowski was quiet against the Northern Irish - no shots on goal and only 49 touches of the ball - he created space for Milik to score the only goal.
''The goal was important, I'm really happy about it,'' the 22-year-old Milik said. ''But even more important are the three points. We still have a few steps ahead of us; this is not the end of the journey.''
The game will see Germany return to the Stade de France for the first time since the stadium was targeted during its friendly with France in the attacks that killed 130 people in Paris on Nov. 13.
Boateng said the players were not thinking of the security arrangements.
''We're concentrating on the sporting aspects,'' Boateng said. ''We're traveling tomorrow as normal and we'll be well-prepared for the game.''
Boateng had previously said his family and children would not attend games because ''the risk is too great for me.''
''It's not for one reason,'' the Bayern Munich defender said Tuesday, ''but for many from the last tournaments, from the traveling. Because I have two small daughters, I decided this time that they shouldn't travel here and there for the whole tournament and come to every stadium.''
It promises to be a special game for Germany forward Lukas Podolski, who was born in Poland and still maintains strong links with the country.
''The Poles have made great strides in recent years,'' said Podolski, appearing at his seventh major tournament. ''Players are playing abroad and they have lots of young players coming through. It's the most dangerous opponent in the group for us. I hope we're first and the Poles second coming out of the group.''
This story has been corrected to show Boateng spoke Tuesday, not Thursday.