UEFA EURO 2012 could not have started any better for Germany striker Mario Gomez. In a cagey affair against Portugal on Saturday, he was the man who made the difference, heading the only goal of the game 18 minutes from time to secure the Group B spoils.
"It was a really tough match," he told UEFA.com. "You could see that Portugal are not a team that you can easily take three points from; Portugal are a very strong side. It was a very difficult, very competitive match. At the start the teams were trying to figure each other out. We tried to win, and that was the most important thing. We know our potential – we can play better."
Germany may have to if they are to go all the way at UEFA EURO 2012, and Joachim Löw's message that the Portugal win represented but the smallest of steps was echoed by Gomez. "We came here to achieve our great objective of becoming European champions, but many other teams here have the same goal," the 26-year-old FC Bayern München player said. "We have to work hard and improve day by day; we have to get better as we go on in the tournament, and then I think we have a good chance with the quality we have. But no one is going to make it easy for us."
Wednesday's opponents the Netherlands certainly will not, as they prepare to come out fighting in Kharkiv following their surprise 1-0 defeat by Denmark. "It will be another very hard encounter," added Gomez. "The Netherlands have a very strong side even if they did lose their first match. They produced lots of goalscoring chances but just didn't manage to convert them; in football you are punished for that. It will be a very tight, exciting match."
The weight of expectation on this Germany team is huge. It is 16 years since the Nationalmannschaft's last major title and the nation are used to having their appetite sated much more frequently. Third at the last two FIFA World Cups, runners-up at UEFA EURO 2008: this, many believe, will be Germany's year. Does Gomez feel that pressure?
"We don't talk about the last 16 years; this squad has nothing to do with the last 16 years. We want to be successful with this team. You have it as an objective and that's our goal here. But there are many other teams with similar ambitions; it will be a very difficult tournament." So, though, was the opener against Portugal – and Germany won that.
©UEFA.com 1998-2017. All rights reserved.