Incalculable Spain pose problems for Germany

TENERO, Switzerland Fri Jun 27, 2008 6:36am EDT

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TENERO, Switzerland (Reuters) - Germany will need all the concentration and commitment they showed in beating Portugal if they are to stop Spain's "incalculable" midfielders giving them a footballing lesson in Sunday's Euro 2008 final.

Coach Joachim Loew is lucky in that being up against a team as comfortable on the ball as Spain means Germany will be able to play their preferred counter-attacking game.

It worked to perfection in a 3-2 win over Portugal in the quarter-finals, when they were alert in defense and devastating on the break and at set-pieces.

Their form dipped alarmingly in the semi-final against Turkey, however. The players gave the ball away continually, the midfield showed precious little creativity and they were lucky to get away with another 3-2 win after a last-gasp goal.

If anything, Spain are even better than Portugal and if Germany are to win their fourth European Championship in Vienna on Sunday Loew knows his players must cut out the mistakes.

"Spain turned in a very impressive performance," Loew said on Friday via the German Football Association website (www.dfb.de). "Throughout the tournament they've played at a high level and been technically strong.

"Compared to the Portuguese they play a more variable game. The midfielders interchange positions all the time and they all push forward. In that way they're incalculable."

Loew is likely to stick with the 4-5-1 formation that did so well versus Portugal and got them through against Turkey by the skin of their teeth.

FRINGS RETURNS

The one change will be the return of Torsten Frings to the starting lineup. Frings missed the Portugal game with a cracked rib but returned as a substitute in place of Simon Rolfes in the second half against Turkey and looked back to his old self.

How well Frings and the other holding midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger can keep track of the bewildering movements of the Spanish midfielders could hold the key to Germany's chances.

Frings especially can be an intimidating presence in the centre of midfield and when he is there the centre-backs Christoph Metzelder and Per Mertesacker look more assured.

Otherwise, they need captain Michael Ballack to produce a display as dynamic as the one he turned in against Portugal, and Bastian Schweinsteiger and Lukas Podolski to stretch the Spanish defense on the wings.

They must also hope that Miroslav Klose, who has scored in each of the last two games, continues his gradual improvement in the lone striker's role.

The big imponderable is, of course, Ballack.

So far this tournament he has played to his best in just one match, against Portugal, although he did score a cracking free kick to settle the team's final group match against Austria.

This will be his first appearance for his country in a match of this scale after he was suspended for the 2002 World Cup final and Germany went out at the semi-final stage in the World Cup they hosted two years ago.

Cesc Fabregas, Xavi and Andres Iniesta will doubtless make the prettier patterns in Spain's midfield, but if Ballack is on form Germany's direct approach may well prove more effective.

(Editing by Ken Ferris)

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