Defender Jerome Boateng excels in Germany's opening win
LILLE, France (AP) Just weeks after he had doubts about even making it to the European Championship, a faultless performance by Jerome Boateng at the heart of Germany's defense helped the world champions make a winning start to Euro 2016.
Having just recovered in time from a left leg muscle injury in January that put his entire season in doubt, the Bayern Munich defender proved his class in a hard-fought 2-0 win over Ukraine on Sunday.
Hardly ever going out of his position, Boateng saved Germany on several occasions and impressed with his accurate passing - keeping an eye open for his teammates and almost always making the right choices.
''It's hard against a team like that,'' the 27-year-old defender said. ''In the second half, we were the better team and we deserved to get the second goal.''
Although playing in central defense, Boateng also stepped in when Germany backs Jonas Hector and Benedikt Hoewedes failed to stop the versatile Ukraine wingers, Andriy Yarmolenko and Yevhen Konoplyanka.
The highlight of Boateng's 60th international game for Germany was his acrobatic save in the 37th minute. Konoplyanka beat goalkeeper Manuel Neuer from close range, only for Boateng to kick the ball off the line while falling backward into the net.
''I also had one in the World Cup final, I think it was similar. But this one, I was lucky - I have long legs,'' Boateng said.
For Ukraine, the situation brought back unhappy memories of an incident that marred their game against England as a co-host of Euro 2012.
Back then, striker Marko Devic was denied what appeared to be a goal as his effort was hooked away by defender John Terry. No goal was awarded, although TV replays suggested the ball had crossed the line. The incident gave new impetus to the discussion about goal-line technology, which is now in place at Euro 2016.
Referee Martin Atkinson didn't need the technology on Sunday, immediately waving the Ukraine players' protests away.
''Very clearly, the ball was not behind the line,'' Germany coach Joachim Loew said.
Loew was full of praise for his defender, who has started his fourth major tournament and was a key factor in Germany's victory at the 2014 World Cup.
''He has solved many dangerous situations, he has done very well,'' Loew said.
Boateng's inspired performance on the pitch came two weeks after he found himself in the middle of a racism controversy off the field.
A top member of a rising German nationalist party reportedly told a national newspaper that many people wouldn't want to live next to Boateng, whose was born in Berlin to a father from Ghana.
Alexander Gauland, deputy leader of Alternative for Germany, was quoted as telling the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung: ''People find him good as a footballer. But they don't want to have a Boateng as their neighbor.''
The remarks drew widespread protests and prompted fans to unfurl a banner reading ''Jerome be our neighbor!'' at Germany's friendly against Slovakia the same day.
After Sunday's match, Loew also referred to the incident, saying with a smile ''It's good to have Jerome Boateng as your neighbor in defense.''