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Steffen Freund: 'Germany are my dark horses'

In his first UEFA EURO 2020 column, former Germany midfielder Steffen Freund talks up their chances but insists France are the benchmark.

Some people might chuckle at this but if I had to pick out a dark horse for UEFA EURO 2020, the first team crossing my mind is Germany.

Now some may say they are amongst the favourites for the title but that's not the case if you look at the world rankings and all their ups and downs – like the defeat by North Macedonia. The atmosphere is not risk-free for Germany. You could view this in a negative way but there are positive connotations as well as the team is not exposed to all that much pressure.

I've been particularly impressed with Joshua Kimmich. He's already world class but he has potential to become one of the best three players around because he offers the complete package. You never see any tiredness or signs of stress with him despite him playing every match. He can chip a ball behind an opposition's defence like no other and has defensive qualities, determination and ambition.

Joshua Kimmich is one of Germany's key players
Joshua Kimmich is one of Germany's key playersGetty Images

In terms of favourites for UEFA EURO 2020, I would put them the following order: France, England, Belgium, Italy, Spain and Portugal. For me, France are the favourites to win as they have the best squad by far and the individual qualities that can be decisive. There is a back-up for every top player in their squad – that's unbelievable! Every player can be swapped out and this is a very important fact after such a long season. This team is so good they could even afford to lose their best player, Kylian Mbappé.

Mbappé will score the most goals for France but my prediction for the Golden Boot is Harry Kane – he doesn't even need a goalscoring chance to put the ball in the net. He worked incredibly hard to achieve this quality in his younger years and once he finds himself in a position to shoot, it becomes very tough for the defender to prevent him from scoring. By the way, I think England are capable of going very far.

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Coming back to Germany, I think the first match against France sets the bar and that's why it's the match I look forward to the most. Can we keep up with France or perhaps even surprise them? If we get a point, or possibly even win the match, this would quickly create a positive vibe for Germany. But it is also possible to suffer a heavy defeat against this French team. I think the match is going to be a banger!

As a player, at the opening match of a major tournament you live through excitement and tension comparable to no other match in the Bundesliga or UEFA Champions League. It's because you are representing your country and all eyes back home are on you. You are proud to represent your country and would like to get it right for all 80 million people in Germany. On the day of the match, you sense this to an extreme level and it stays with you for the rest of the tournament.

My greatest EURO memory as a player is the 1996 semi-final against England in front of 80,000 fans at Wembley. I would recommend everyone watches a replay of this game – you will have goosebumps after 15 minutes at the latest. The atmosphere was unbelievably moving because the people there celebrate football in such an extraordinary fashion. When 80,000 people start singing and don't stop until the match is over, it's difficult to grasp.

EURO '96 semi-final highlights: England v Germany
EURO '96 semi-final highlights: England v Germany

The match unfolded in a highly emotional and thrilling way but, despite England losing, the send-off we received came with a lot of respect. I will never forget this. At the same time this match was an extremely negative experience for me, because I tore my ACL in the last minute. I was very emotional afterwards and wanted to travel home immediately. I was totally shocked at not being able to play in the final.

As for stadium atmosphere at this EURO, I am happy we are headed in the right direction. Fans are extremely important at football matches. The beauty of the match is only present when fans are. You need emotions and a symbiosis has to arise. In Germany, we have a saying for this: "This is the salt in the soup". And the soup doesn't taste good when fans are missing.