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Hitzlsperger plots route to glory

As Thomas Hitzlsperger prepares for the "biggest game of my career" he underlined that Germany's hopes tonight rest on spoiling Spain's passing game.

Thomas Hitzlsperger celebrates Philipp Lahm's sem-final winner
Thomas Hitzlsperger celebrates Philipp Lahm's sem-final winner ©Getty Images

As Thomas Hitzlsperger prepares for what he describes as the "biggest game of my career" in Vienna on Sunday he underlined that, with or without Michael Ballack, Germany's hopes rest on not allowing Spain room to play their own game.

'First final'
"I feel good about this," said the VfB Stuttgart midfielder as he savoured the atmosphere ahead of the UEFA EURO 2008™ final. "We're all focused now and are aware how big it is, even if for most of us it will be our first final at this level." That is certainly true of Hitzlsperger, among a host of younger players in Joachim Löw's squad, though having played a key role as Stuttgart claimed the Bundesliga title the season before last, he has a fair idea of how to bring about success. "We have shown that we're strong," he said of Germany's progress in Austria and Switzerland. "The Croatia match was not too good, but we have continued on our course since then, and focused on our objective which was to reach final."

Close quarters
Hitzlsperger did not feature in the 2-1 loss to Croatia, but after coming on after the hour in the victory against Austria which booked a spot in the knockout rounds he has earned his place in Löw's starting XI. Germany impressed in the 3-2 triumph over Portugal, though it took a last-minute Philipp Lahm goal to see off Turkey in the last four and Hitzlsperger sees problems that need addressing. "We've got to improve several things from the Turkey game, most importantly closing opponents down early," he said. "When they [Spain] have the ball they make you run, and you can get tired early on; that shouldn't happen. We need to close them down from the first minute and if we're successful in that we have a good chance.

Ballack loss?
"We've been talking about Spain a lot; they are much improved, the best team in the finals," the 26-year-old continued. "For us there have been difficulties; the Spaniards did not have these problems but we hope we can cause them problems and they won't find an answer in 90 minutes." Spain will be without the injured David Villa in Vienna though Hitzlsperger believes that they "are such a good side that they can compensate even if he's not playing". He was less circumspect about the prospect of Germany losing Michael Ballack to a calf knock, saying: "He's such an important player. His main strength is his ability to score so many goals, his presence and his leadership on the pitch for the young players to look up to – that's what we need tomorrow."