Germany coach Joachim Loew on Wednesday identified his midfield pairing of Michael Ballack and Torsten Frings as key to the success of his team at Euro 2008.
Germany play Croatia here on Thursday with both sides on a high following opening victories against Poland (2-0) and Austria (1-0) respectively.
Both teams know that a victory could secure their passage to the quarter-finals and Loew singled out his veteran midfield pair – they are both 31 – for special praise.
“I think both Frings and Ballack are at their best,” he said. “Frings certainly is the one who makes sure that Ballack can play.
“He plays very sensibly, he keeps his eye on the ball while Ballack plays offensively more often than Frings.
“He (Ballack) closes the gaps when he needs to and he's the one who has got the feel for when he needs to step up to plate.
“We will stick to a flat back four with four midfielders and Ballack can play offensively from the wings, also on the counter-attack and he is then able to fall back and play defensively thanks to his speed.”
Loew claimed Germany's confidence is growing due to their recent results, which included 4-0 and 3-0 victories over the co-hosts Switzerland and Austria respectively in warm-up matches.
“It's true that over the past few months we have bceome more and more self-confident,” he said.
“In a number of games we proved we can implement a concept and put into practice what we have worked on.”
But despite that confidence Loew said he can still learn a lot in the game.
“I can still learn from a number of people and each time I meet a colleague from another team, I try to take things home with me after talking with other coaches, such as Slaven Bilic (Croatia's coach).
“It's important for me. He has proved as a young coach that he can take the team in the right direction.
“They had good results in qualifying, beating England and they not only have a strong team but also a strong coach.”
Six Croatian players ply their club trade in the German Bundesliga and Loew said the fact those players were used to playing together would help them.
“Croatia have a number of players in the Bundesliga, players who played together before or do now.
“They are a very experienced team with a strong defence in (Robert) Kovac and (Josip) Simunic.
“They have a lot of experienced forward players such as (Mladen) Petric, (Ivica) Olic and (Luka) Modric who can tip the scales.
“They have a strong forward line and dangerous players up front.”
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