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Germany can cope with co-favourites tag, insists Ballack

SoccerNews in Bundesliga, European Championships 9 Jun 2008

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Germany captain Michael Ballack insists his side have shown the mental strength to cope with their tag of joint Euro 2008 favourites ahead of Thursday's showdown with Group B rivals Croatia.

Germany forward Lukas Podolski scored twice in Sunday night's 2-0 win over Poland to fire his side top of Group B, while Croatia also made a winning start to their campaign with their 1-0 win over co-hosts Austria.

And Ballack insists his side are capable of winning the Euro 2008 title in Vienna on June 29 and will get stronger with every game.

“You can tell that we're focused, the team didn't waiver under pressure, we are in the right place mentally – it was there,” said Chelsea midfielder Ballack ahead of Thursday's game in Klagenfurt, Austria.

“Most players were impressive, we didn't make many mistakes and that shows the team is where it needs to be – we can deal with the pressure and that's crucial.”

Ballack also praised Podolski.

The striker spent most of last season on the bench at Bayern Munich behind world-class forwards Luca Toni and Miroslav Klose, but Germany coach Joachim Loew opted to give him an attacking midfield role which paid off against the Poles.

The 23-year-old – voted the best young player at the 2006 World Cup – looked sharp against Poland and Ballack said he is pleased to see “Poldi” re-capture his form of two years ago.

“Poldi decided the game, he had a brilliant performance, not just with his two goals,” said Ballack.

“Individually we were very good, not just the strikers, also in midfield.

“The same spirit we had at the World Cup is there again: we tried to play offensive football and we're going to try to maintain that and I think this is a team that wants to move forward.”

And centre-back Per Mertesacker – part of a solid German defence – said his side are peaking at just the right time.

“Our fitness was good against Poland, which was important as we had made sure we peaked for Euro 2008, rather than in our warm-up games against Belarus and Serbia,” said the Werder Bremen defender.

“The defence held up well and answered all the questions posed, there are still areas we can work on, but it was reassuring to get a good win under our belts.”

Germany are chasing their fourth European Championship title having won in 1972, 1980 (those two as the then West Germany) and 1996 and manager Oliver Bierhoff – who scored the winning goal at Wembley to give his country the Euro 1996 title – said the omens are good.

“It was important for us to make an important start to the tournament with a win over Poland, but we need to keep that going against Croatia,” said Bierhoff.

“We can be happy we had a good start to the tournament, it will give us self-confidence and security, but we haven't reached our goal, there are two very important games left to play.

“In 1996, Germany also won our first game 2-0 (against the Czech Republic), I hope it's a good omen, we can't rely on that, but it gives us a bit of re-assurance.”

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