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Host Germany hoping to create another summer party at Euro 2024 after recent tournament flops

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BERLIN (AP) — Another extraordinary summer or another national embarrassment.

No one knows quite what to expect from this Germany team heading in the European Championship.

The optimists point to the opportunity of staging another monthlong party like the one that gripped the country when it hosted the 2006 World Cup. The pessimists can point to three straight fiascos at major tournaments that has forced Germany fans to readjust their expectations of the men’s soccer team.

The latest signs seem positive, though, with Germany earning impressive wins in friendlies against France and the Netherlands in March after new coach Julian Nagelsmann instigated a shakeup of the squad.

If the team can carry can carry that momentum into the group stage, expect another festive atmosphere in Germany.

“If we get off to a good start, Germany could experience a similar enthusiasm and energy to that of 2006,” said Philipp Lahm, the former national team captain who is now the tournament director of Euro 2024.

Many Germans still look back fondly on that summer of 2006, and there are some parallels between the two tournaments.

Back then, the Germany team coached by Jürgen Klinsmann had been criticized before the tournament for conceding too many goals, and the team was coming off an embarrassing exit in the Euro 2004 group stage. Klinsmann was placing his faith in youth, but expectations were still low going into the World Cup.

But after three wins in the group stage, World Cup fever took hold in the host nation.

It was the first tournament that Germany was hosting as a reunified country, and for many Germans it felt like the first opportunity they could wave their flag and show national pride.

In addition, the weather was wonderful, the beer kept flowing and everyone seemed to be enjoying the fun. While Germany fell just short of the final, losing to Italy in the semifinals, Germans still refer to the 2006 World Cup as a “Sommermärchen“ — or summer fairytale.

The build-up to this summer’s tournament has seen some striking similarities. Germany was playing so badly that Hansi Flick was fired as coach last September. Nagelsmann had a rocky start, but threw caution to the wind when he dropped established players like Leon Goretzka and Mats Hummels and placed his trust in players who were performing well for their club teams.

Nagelsmann also recalled Real Madrid star Toni Kroos, though he didn’t know at the time it would be for the midfielder’s final hurrah. The 34-year-old Kroos has since announced he will retire after the tournament.

Nagelsmann’s changes paid off immediately as his new-look team defeated France and the Netherlands.

The old doubts were dispelled, confidence surged back. Former West Germany great Lothar Matthäus declared Germany had to go on and win the European Championship.

Unlike many former Germany teams, though, this one will not be overly reliant on Bayern Munich players.

After Bayern’s domestic supremacy was ended by Bayer Leverkusen — which won a league and cup double without losing a game — that power shift will likely be reflected in the national team.

The only Bayern players involved from the start in March were Jamal Musiala and Joshua Kimmich, although Manuel Neuer should return in goal for the tournament.

Leverkusen will likely have three players in Nagelsmann’s starting lineup with Jonathan Tah at the back, Robert Andrich in midfield, and Florian Wirtz in attack. Stuttgart’s Maximilian Mittelstädt has been trusted with the troublesome left back position while Arsenal’s Kai Havertz is a likely option up front.

The host nation opens against Scotland in Munich on June 14, then plays Hungary in Stuttgart on June 19, before finishing the group against Switzerland in Frankfurt on June 23.

Much of the team’s success will depend on Kroos, who has the composure to read games and the technical skill to play the ball exactly where he wants it.

Kroos is one of the few players left from the team that won the 2014 World Cup, and finishing his Germany career with a European title would make for a perfect summer, indeed.

“He doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone,” Nagelsmann said about Kroos. “But he’s got one last big tournament left and he’s really looking forward to it. He has the chance to win another title. Then I think he would have won everything. That would be an incredible story.”

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