Germany facing up to tough decisions as the final beckons
If Germany do win Euro 2016, they will not have done so the easy way. Joachim Loew's World Champions were last night back at base, licking their wounds after a draining quarter-final with Italy in Bordeaux on Saturday night, recuperating and finding out who they will play in Thursday's semi-final in Marseille.
Germany have been the best team in the tournament so far but they will know that they have never been more vulnerable than they will be for that forthcoming semi-final.
Germany played for two draining hours against Italy on Saturday, gifting Antonio Conte's side a way back into the game that meant extra-time and penalties. That shoot-out took 18 kicks, with Bastian Schweinsteiger missing a chance to win it before, four kicks each later, Jonas Hector squeezed the ball underneath Gianluigi Buffon.
The fear for Germany and Loew is that the win might prove to a Phyrric one. Mario Gomez has been ruled out of the rest of the tournament through injury, Sami Khedira is suffering with a groin strain, while Mats Hummels will be suspended.
Those three make up the muscular spine of the team and they will certainly be a lesser side without them. Gomez has been one of the revelations of this tournament, forcing Loew to realise that he is better off with a good old-fashioned number nine rather than a modern 'false' one.
Since replacing Mario Goetze after the first two disappointing group games, Gomez gave Germany a new edge: scoring against Northern Ireland and Slovakia, and setting up Mesut Ozil's goal on Saturday.
But Gomez picked up a hamstring injury early in the second half on Saturday, limped off and was replaced by Julian Draxler. Now Loew has a serious decision to make between a serious of unsatisfactory options: Goetze, who is not a striker, Thomas Muller, who struggles to lead the line by himself, and Lukas Podolski, who has been cut out for the top level for the last five years.
In the heart of midfield Loew has enjoyed partnering Khedira and Toni Kroos, but Khedria pulled a groin muscle on Saturday and was replaced by Bastian Schweinsteiger. Now Khedira is a major doubt for Thursday, while Schweinsteiger, who played for more time than he has done for six months, is not certain to be ready. Emre Can could be called back in or Josh Kimmich moved inside from wing-back.
How Loew copes without Hummels, who is suspended, will hinge on whether he sticks with the 3-4-2-1 formation he chose against Italy, or returns to 4-2-3-1. A back four could allow Bendikt Howedes to move inside alongside Jerome Boateng who has been one of the best centre-backs in the tournament.
That tactical change was done to match Italy through the middle of the pitch, but Thursday will be a different challenge. Germany are one game away from the final at the Stade de France, and the chance to win a second consecutive major trophy. That would make Loew one of the all-time great coaches, but he must know that he has some difficult choices to make.