Saturday 17 March 2018

Gomez out of competition as Germany's injuries mount

Mario Gomez will not play any further part for Loew’s side. Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images
Mario Gomez will not play any further part for Loew’s side. Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images

Jamie Holland

Germany striker Mario Gomez will miss the rest of Euro 2016 after suffering a torn hamstring in the quarter-final win over Italy, as the world champions were left to count the cost of a bruising first competitive victory over the Azzurri.

Midfielders Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira are also doubtful for Thursday's semi-final with hosts France - and the final should the world champions get that far - after the former took a blow to his knee against Italy and the latter suffered an adductor injury.

Defender Mats Hummels, meanwhile, is banned for the semi-final clash in Marseille.

Gomez limped off in the second half of the match in Bordeaux, which Joachim Loew's side went on to win on penalties, and tests at an Annecy hospital yesterday revealed the severity of the injury.

Gomez has been one of the revelations of this tournament for Germany, forcing Loew to realise that he is better off with an old-fashioned centre-forward rather than a modern 'false nine'.

Since replacing Mario Goetze after his first two disappointing group games, Gomez gave the side a new edge: scoring against Northern Ireland and Slovakia, and setting up Mesut Ozil's opening goal against Italy on Saturday.

Loew said: "It is very bitter to lose important players, especially at this crucial stage of the tournament.

"I am especially sorry for Mario. He has produced strong performances in the Euros and helped the team a lot, not only with his goals.

"For us it means that we have to accept a new situation and find solutions. And we will do so.

"The quality of our squad is high, I have full confidence in all our players. We will be ready for Thursday and are looking forward to the semi-final in Marseille."

Beyond his outward confidence, Loew has a serious decision to make between a series 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.

The highly-experienced trio of Gomez, Khedira and Hummels also make up the muscular spine of Loew's team and they will certainly be a lesser side against a French side who were imperious in their humbling of Iceland.

In the heart of midfield, Loew has enjoyed partnering Khedira and Toni Kroos, but Khedira pulled a groin muscle 15 minutes into Saturday's game and was replaced by 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 into the side, or Josh Kimmich moved inside from wing-back.

How Loew copes without Hummels 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, aside from the penalty he conceded which his counterpart Leonardo Bonucci converted with aplomb, has been one of the best centre-backs in the tournament so far.

That tactical change was made to match Italy through the middle of the pitch, but Thursday now represents a very different challenge.

Germany were back at their base last night recuperating after a gruelling and emotionally draining encounter.

They played for two draining hours against Italy, gifting the Azzurri a way back into the game that meant extra-time and a dramatic penalty shoot-out.

That nail-biting finale took an amazing 18 kicks, with Schweinsteiger missing a chance to win it before, four kicks each later, Jonas Hector squeezed the ball underneath Gianluigi Buffon.

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.

Meanwhile, Italian striker Graziano Pelle looks likely to leave Southampton this summer, with Antonio Conte's Chelsea among the clubs considering a move for the 30-year-old who was one of the four Italians who missed a penalty in Saturday's epic shoot-out in Bordeaux.

There are no plans at Southampton to offer a new contract to Pelle, who has one year left on his current deal and would have been able to leave last summer had a serious offer had been made.

Charlie Austin's arrival in January was with a view to Pelle's long-term replacement and the club will also reinvest the funds from their sale of Sadio Mane to Liverpool, which is potentially worth up to £38.5m.

Southampton will expect a fee of at least £15m for a forward who finished the season strongly with six goals in seven games.

There is also expected to be interest in Pelle from the Chinese Super League, as well as Italy's Serie A.

Pelle had a good Euro 2016. He scored twice, in the victories over Belgium and Spain, and also met Conte's demand of adding some extra hard running to his game.

Conte said after Saturday's match that he would take seven days break before he started work at Chelsea next Monday.

He added that he was looking forward to his new life as Chelsea manager before leaving with a parting shot at the Italian media and the Italian game in general.

Conte said that he had always felt isolated over two years as Italy manager and had been stung by criticism of the team.

"It seemed I had to go into battle - Conte against everyone," he said. "I have always worked for the best of the national team. Not for myself."

He revealed that his decision to leave Italy after Euro 2016 was made last November after the team had qualified for the finals and once Chelsea approached him there was no looking back.

"It will be a significantly different challenge but that's a challenge I relish," he said.

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