Unlikely outsiders Germany out to spring a surprise

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By Karolos Grohmann

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany are not used to being outsiders in major tournaments but that may not necessarily be a bad thing when the three-time European champions kick off their Euro 2020 campaign next month.

The Germans, four-times World Cup winners, have reached at least the semi-finals in the past three Euros but are not among the favourites to lift the trophy this year.

"I have not yet set a goal for the tournament," said coach Joachim Loew. "This time we don't belong to the absolute favourites like France, for example, but this is not necessarily a burden."

Their disastrous 2018 World Cup first-round exit that was followed by an equally disappointing Nations League performance prompted Loew to overhaul the team in 2019.

Thomas Mueller, Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels -- who all helped Germany to win the World Cup in 2014 -- were among those axed as Loew brought in younger players.

But a string of bad results, including November's 6-0 demolition by Spain for their heaviest competitive defeat ever, as well as the interruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 forced Loew to make a U-turn for the tournament.

He recalled central defender Hummels and attacking midfielder Mueller for his Euro squad as the Germans look for defensive stability and more creativity up front.

Loew has the luxury of choice when it comes to his world-class midfield with the likes of Toni Kroos, Ilkay Gundogan, Leon Goretzka, Joshua Kimmich and Kai Havertz at his disposal.

But they have been extremely wasteful up front, badly missing a natural striker.

The addition of Mueller brings experience and versatility in attack with the 31-year-old having had a superb season with Bayern, with 11 league goals and 18 assists.

The return of in-form AS Monaco striker Kevin Volland, five years after his last international appearance, adds another out-and-out striker, with fellow forward Timo Werner struggling to find goals for Chelsea this season.

Loew hopes the addition of Mueller and Volland will dramatically improve their conversion rate and with it their chances in the tournament.

But the coach, who will be leaving his post after 15 years at the end of the Euros, knows the Germans first need to get out of a tough Group F, with France as their first opponents on June 15 in Munich.

They then face holders Portugal before taking on Hungary in their last group match.

"For a tournament it is important to be focused in every game, every game is a knockout game," Loew said.

"We play with France then against Portugal. So we want to survive the group stage. If you make the mistake of thinking of a second or third step in advance it may be an obstacle.

"If we get through the group and get into a flow then my team can achieve anything."

(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann, editing by Pritha Sarkar)