Germany v Holland, June 13, 7.45pm
13 June ~ After Saturday's hard-fought 1-0 victory over Portugal, the German public and football pundits are expecting an improved performance against Holland in the crucial second group game this evening. Many fans will be hoping to see a repeat of the last meeting between these two sides, when Germany swept the Dutch aside in a scintillating 3-0 friendly win last November. However, the German media have been swift to point out that the Nationalelf have failed to win their second group match in six out of the last seven tournaments.
That piece of footballing trivia will probably affect the onfield performance less than the "sauna temperatures" in Kharkiv predicted by various German newspapers. The players avoided blaming the heat for the sometimes lethargic pace of the opening game but they know they will have to be at their best against a Dutch team that must win to have a realistic chance of progressing to the knockout stages of the tournament.
Footballing relations between these two nations have improved markedly since reaching a nadir at the World Cup in 1990, but history dictates that Germany against Holland has a special significance for many fans. Dutch supporters have been out in force in Kharkiv for a few days now and the first groups of German fans have started to arrive in the city.
Official sources indicated that there were still several hundred tickets available for the game as of Monday morning, but with almost 100 charter flights to the local airport expected before the game, and all trains fully booked, those are likely to be snapped up quickly.
German coach Jogi Low is not giving much away at all. He ensured that his squad trained behind closed doors on Monday. At the press conference that day in Gdansk, he remained coy, telling the assembled journalists: “I've been in this job for some years now and you know that I'm good for the occasional surprise.” But he did not reveal any details about his preferred line-up. He also went out of his way to praise the performances in training of the players who had not started Saturday's match, mentioning Miroslav Klose in particular.
That may be a cause for concern for Mario Gomez, the Bundesliga's star striker. Despite scoring the winning goal against Portugal, Gomez has been placed under some pressure by the televised post-game comments of Mehmet Scholl. The former Germany international, who is now reserve-team coach at Gomez's club Bayern Munich, questioned the striker's commitment and willingness to track back, but maintains that he just wants to "get the best out of Mario".
Gomez himself seems unfazed by the criticism, but Low must decide whether to keep faith with the sometimes erratic striker or rely on the experience of Klose, who now has 63 international goals to his name. For Fredi Bobic, a much travelled forward who featured for Germany in the European Championships of 1996 and 2004, that decision is an easy one: "Mario has reacted very calmly to all the criticism. He'll score another goal against Holland and that will shut everyone up." John Van Laer