UEFA EURO 2020 kicks off on Friday evening as Italy take on Turkey in Rome in the opening match. Germany start their EUROs campaign against world champions France on Tuesday (21:00 CEST) in Munich. Ahead of the match, Toni Kroos and Robin Koch sat down to discuss the preparations for the match and the tournament.
…his anticipation for the tournament: I’m looking forward to the first match a great deal. We’ve worked hard as a team over the past two weeks and we’ve made progress together. We still have one or two things to work on ahead of the opening game though.
…differences compared to the 2018 World Cup: Before the World Cup, I never got the sense that anything was wrong, so I wouldn’t blame our poor performance on anything else. Completely independent of that, I have assessed the mood in camp right now. I get the feeling that we're a very keen team, and that we have many players who are thinking about how we can work together as a whole. The ambition and anticipation are high, as they should be ahead of a major tournament.
…tactical discussions with Joachim Löw: The players are constantly talking to him. That’s how he gets to know his team inside and out and refine his tactical ideas. In the end though, it’s up to him what system we play. It will be key that every player knows what he has to do out there on the pitch.
…activities between training sessions: I’ve been doing a lot of regeneration between sessions. I try to make the most of the time that we have off, but also to relax as well. It’s something that each player does a little differently, just like the pre-match traditions in the tunnel.
...the tactics against France: It’s always a case of playing well as a team. If we get our marking or tackling wrong, we’ll struggle against every team. As long as we work well as a unit, it doesn’t matter what kind of character individual players have. Against France, we have to retain the ball as much as possible and lose it as seldom as we can. If Mbappé gets going, it will be extremely difficult to stop him.
…who will play in central midfield: Each player has different qualities that they bring to the team. Jo (Kimmich) can play two positions excellently. İlkay and I can’t do that, so we’ll have to find a solution together. It’s up to the boss and he’ll be making that decision before the first game. I can work well with both players and it’s always great to play alongside them both.
…the toughest opponent in the competition: Our goal is first and foremost to get through the group stages. We’re not looking any further than that right now.
…opening opponents France: I remember our last game against them in the EUROs well. They are now world champions and have stepped up their game since then, but we’ve had a few changes as well. They are one of the absolute favourites for the tournament. But we don't have any reason to hide ourselves. We have a very talented squad, just like France do. We'll have to see what happens in the end. We're not concerned with who is considered to be the favourite going in.
…the unusual pre-tournament role as non-favourites: I think it’s important to assess the situation realistically before the first game and not to make any claims about who is better. Going into a tournament though, you have to keep a positive mindset. We’ll go into every game wanting to win and then we’ll see how far we get.
…N'Golo Kanté: He is a superb player. You saw that throughout the later stages of the Champions League. He doesn’t stop and that workrate sets him apart, especially defensively.
…Karim Benzema: I certainly wouldn’t have a problem if he was only involved from the second match onwards! I know him very well and I know how good he is and what a good season he has had. He’ll make the French squad even stronger up front than they already are. But I have a lot of confidence in our defence. We have to defend against him as a team.
...the EUROs getting underway: The whole team is looking forward to the tournament finally getting underway. We can't wait and are motivating each other.
...being called up for the EUROs: I think that the matches I featured in for the national team played a bigger role in my call-up than my move to the Premier League did. After my injury, I was counting the days to see if I'd be fit in time for the EUROs. In the end, it worked out and I'm here now, which I'm very happy about.
...his role within the team: The special thing about a tournament like this is that everyone that's here is fully deserving of being here and is pushing themselves to the limit. That also means that every player can become a key figure for the side over the course of the tournament.
...his build-up play: I used to play in midfield, and only transitioned into a centre-back when I was in the U19s. One of my strengths is building out from the back. I enjoy playing both positions.
...his experience abroad: The Premier League is a bit faster and more aggressive. That helped develop my game even more and made me into a better player. But, you also grow off the pitch as well as you're in a foreign country, speaking a different language.
...Leeds head coach Marcelo Bielsa: Marcelo Bielsa and Christian Streich (Ed. note: his former coach at SC Freiburg) are similar in that they are both obsessed with football. The way he analyses games is incredible and the things he picks up on usually end up happening. The advice he gave me for the EUROs was to have fun and to enjoy the tournament.
...the mood in England ahead of the EUROs: Based on what I saw in England, everyone is looking forward to the tournament. I can't really offer an opinion on how the situation is with the Coronavirus. I don't think there are really that many differences to Germany.
...upcoming opponents France: With the kind of players they have, France are definitely one of the favourites to win the EUROs. We know that we will be up against a tough opponent right from the start, but I don't think that we have any reason to hide ourselves.
...Toni Kroos: As a player, it's ridiculously hard to take the ball away from him. He always stays calm. Regardless if he's surrounded by three opposing players, he's always able to find his teammate with a perfect pass. He impressed me right from the start. I've never seen a player that's as good in their position as he is.
...Antonio Rüdiger: Toni had a great second half to the season under Thomas Tuchel and will be a key player for us during the EUROs.
...the video call with Chancellor Angela Merkel: That was something special for me. I'd only ever seen her on television, and to see her chat privately with the team was something special and a lot of fun. It was a good mix of questions from both sides, touching on football and politics.