GER­MANY LOOK­ING GOOD TO DE­FEND WORLD CUP TI­TLE

Coach Loew at­tempts to play down the hype sur­round­ing his team af­ter their as­tound­ing qual­i­fy­ing cam­paign for the finals in Rus­sia next year, writes Ciaran Fa­hey in Ber­lin

Bangkok Post - - FOOTBALL -

With a Euro­pean record of 43 goals scored, Ger­many are on their way to de­fend their World Cup ti­tle next year in Rus­sia. The Ger­mans com­pleted their qual­i­fy­ing cam­paign with a 5-1 win over Azer­bai­jan on Sun­day, but coach Joachim Loew ex­pects big­ger chal­lenges ahead.

“It’s a mis­take to take this qual­i­fi­ca­tion cam­paign as a yard­stick. Sure, it was good, it was a clear achieve­ment,” Loew said of beat­ing Spain’s qual­i­fy­ing record for South Africa in 2010 by goal dif­fer­ence.

“But another other level awaits at the World Cup. That’s why we need to keep the ball on the ground, there’s still a lot to do. I want to achieve some­thing re­ally re­mark­able in a few months. It will be dif­fi­cult enough to be world cham­pi­ons two times in a row.”

Spain went on to win the ti­tle in 2010 af­ter set­ting the pre­vi­ous record in qual­i­fy­ing, but Brazil were the last World Cup cham­pi­ons to re­tain the ti­tle in 1962 and Loew is ea­ger to high­light the dif­fi­culty of the task at hand.

“Only we as world cham­pi­ons have some­thing to lose. Ev­ery­one else can only win,” Loew said.

Still, any­thing less than a sec­ond straight World Cup ti­tle would be a dis­ap­point­ment for Ger­many.

Here are some of the ar­eas Loew will need to ad­dress be­fore next year’s tour­na­ment:

SQUAD SE­LEC­TION

Ar­guably Loew’s big­gest headache is the sheer num­ber of tal­ented play­ers he has at his dis­posal. Al­to­gether, he used 37 dif­fer­ent play­ers in the 10 qual­i­fy­ing games. Only 23 can be se­lected for Rus­sia.

The Bun­desliga web­site iden­ti­fied four sep­a­rate teams that Loew can send out while re­main­ing com­pet­i­tive.

In­juries per­mit­ting, Loew would like to keep faith in the back­bone of the team that won the 2014 ti­tle, with Manuel Neuer (cur­rently out in­jured) in goal be­hind Bay­ern Mu­nich team­mates Mats Hum­mels and Jerome Boateng, with Me­sut Oezil, Toni Kroos and Sami Khedira in mid­field.

Timo Werner is likely to keep his place up front de­spite Hof­fen­heim striker San­dro Wag­ner mak­ing the most of his chance to im­press with five goals in five qual­i­fiers.

Much will de­pend on the avail­abil­ity and form of Marco Reus, Mario Goetze and Ilkay Gun­do­gan — all have faced or are fac­ing long in­jury lay-offs.

“The door is open of course,” Loew said af­ter Sun­day’s game.

“Ev­ery in­di­vid­ual player’s per­for­mances will be ob­served. Some­times you have one or another coming through that you weren’t ex­pect­ing.”

Max­i­m­il­ian Philipp, who didn’t par­tic­i­pate in qual­i­fy­ing, is another who could yet play his way into the coach’s plans if he main­tains his strong start to the sea­son for Borus­sia Dort­mund.

CON­CEN­TRA­TION

Such is Ger­many’s dom­i­nance at times that com­pla­cency can be a prob­lem, es­pe­cially against smaller op­po­nents. Af­ter tak­ing an early lead against Azer­bai­jan, the Ger­mans con­ceded an equaliser in a lack­lus­tre first-half per­for­mance.

“We put our­selves un­der pres­sure be­cause we didn’t have the op­tions go­ing forward quickly when we were play­ing from the back,” Loew said. “That’s what we wanted. It wasn’t op­ti­mal in the first half.”

TEAM­WORK

One ef­fect of so many changes in qual­i­fy­ing is that team­work can suf­fer among un­fa­mil­iar team­mates, as ev­i­denced in the first-half dis­play against Azer­bai­jan.

“You could see that we had never played in that for­ma­tion be­fore,” Loew said.

“We didn’t play the game at tempo, we made mi­nor tech­ni­cal mis­takes. You also have to ac­knowl­edge that some young play­ers are go­ing through var­i­ous stages of devel­op­ment. Not ev­ery­thing works out.”

The Ger­many coach will hope to iron out any is­sues in the now cus­tom­ary pre-tour­na­ment train­ing camp in South Ty­rol, north­ern Italy.

TOP OP­PO­NENTS

Loew wasn’t be­ing ar­ro­gant when he said that qual­i­fy­ing op­po­nents Azer­bai­jan, North­ern Ire­land, the Czech Repub­lic and Nor­way were not at the same level as the teams that will be chal­leng­ing for the World Cup ti­tle.

“The real work only starts when the qual­i­fy­ing is over,” said Loew, who has steered Ger­many to the semi-finals or bet­ter in ev­ery ma­jor tour­na­ment since he took over the po­si­tion af­ter the 2006 World Cup.

To help fine-tune for Rus­sia, Ger­many have next month’s friendlies lined up against Eng­land at Wem­b­ley Sta­dium, then most likely France in Cologne, be­fore they host Spain and Brazil for friendlies in Dues­sel­dorf and Ber­lin next March.

“We have a good ba­sis,” Loew said.

Ger­many de­fender Mats Hum­mels, cen­tre, in ac­tion against North­ern Ire­land in a World Cup qualifier.

Ger­many coach Joachim Loew, left, cel­e­brates with striker Timo Werner af­ter a win.

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