Germany more lucky than good

There is no set formula for success at the European Championships.

It can be won with flair and style like France in 2000 or Holland in 1988, with boring yet ruthlessly efficient defense like Greece in 2004 or with teamwork and a sense of destiny like Denmark in 1992.

This year, though, Germany is trying a different approach, one that no one has quite managed to pull off before.

The Germans are trying to win it all by playing really bad football.

Wednesday's 3-2 semifinal victory over Turkey was so far removed from the sort of performance that Germany is capable of that it almost defied belief.

Of course, in major tournaments like Euro 2008 all that matters is the end result, but the fact that the Germans looked more like chumps than champions will have put the brakes on any over-optimism ahead of Sunday's final against the winner of Thursday's Russia-Spain semifinal.

Expected to breeze past a Turkish side that was drastically depleted by injury and suspension, Joachim Loew's men ended up being outplayed for most of the game. If not for a heavy slice of good fortune, the Germans would be heading home to be greeted by a disgusted nation and some tough questions.

Bastian Schweinsteiger's equalizing goal was a beautiful finish, but Germany's second goal was gifted by the panic of Turkey goalkeeper Rustu Recber. Philipp Lahm's late winner was no reflection on the balance of play, either.

Coach Loew has tried to maintain a fresh, attack-minded mentality in his team, but all that has transpired is horrible defense from a nation that previously prided itself on its efficiency in such matters.

Lahm, Christoph Metzelder, Per Mertesacker and particularly goalkeeper Jens Lehmann never looked comfortable and deserved to concede more than the two goals that they did yield.

At the end, the relief on the faces of the German players was plain to see as they congregated in the penalty area and saluted their supporters. (Or was it embarrassment?) Either way, unless there is huge improvement in the final, the only scene will be those of regret and disappointment at St. Jakob's Park in Vienna on Sunday.

The thought of Russia's Andrei Arshavin and Spain's David Villa running at that static and creaking backline will give Loew some cold shivers before the weekend.

Whoever wins the second semifinal, one thing is for certain: Germany will be faced with an opponent that is sharper, quicker and more mobile in the championship game

"Tomorrow we've got to start getting ready for the final," Loew told reporters after Wednesday's victory. "We've got to do a lot better."

Right now, Loew doesn't care about how his team gets over the line. He would happily abandon his free-flowing approach for the old, dour, clinical Germany of yesteryear. Problem is, he does not have the players at his disposal to do it.

Not since the doomed Euro 2000 campaign that ended without a point, has the German team looked so shaky at the back. Loew would probably give up his beloved starched white shirt in order to get some of the defensive steeliness of the 2002 World Cup team, which conceded just once in six games before losing to Brazil in the final.

In Schweinsteiger, Lukas Podolski and Michael Ballack, Germany is not short on dangerous attacking players who can cause damage – as long as they don't spend half their time panicking about how to protect that miserable backline.

If Germany is to lift the trophy, then Joachim Loew needs to take a long, hard look at his team. He won't like what he sees.