Monday 16 September 2019

Joachim Low forced to answer tough questions as his ruthless German rebuild faces a crucial night in Belfast

Germany manager Joachim Low ended the international careers of some of his 2014 World Cup winners (Brian Lawless/PA)
Germany manager Joachim Low ended the international careers of some of his 2014 World Cup winners (Brian Lawless/PA)
Kevin Palmer

Kevin Palmer

World Cup humiliation was always likely to be a catalyst for change in the Germany team and now coach Joachim Low has called for patience as he looks to a new future.

After Germany's new look side slumped to a 4-2 home defeat against Holland on Friday night, questions marks over Low's decision to rip a host of experienced performers out of his team in ruthless fashion have been raised once again.

As they prepare to take on Northern Ireland in what has become a must-win Euro 2020 qualifier in Belfast on Monday night, the events of the last year in German football are being picked over after their latest humbling setback.

Germany's reign as the kings of international football ended with a crushing first-round exit in last summer's World Cup in Russia, Arsenal's Mesut Ozil was the first high profile name who carried a burden of blame for the embarrassment, plenty of high profile names have followed him out of the revolving door.

World Cup winners heroes Mats Hummels, Jerome Boateng and Thomas Muller were then also scrubbed from Low's national team panel, with a woeful UEFA Nations League campaign last autumn propelling him to make radical changes to his set-up.

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Thomas Muller had his Germany career ended by coach Joachin Low (Mike Egerton/PA)

"In the national team, you can't just change everything from one day to the next," declared Low. "I wasn't sure after the World Cup, because I knew that precisely these three players could still be world-class and they can still be that today.

"Then we had the Nations League and in a group with France and the Netherlands, we needed the experienced players, but the chance to try something new came along in this qualifying group.

"We have started a transition. A new cycle is beginning with the Euro qualifications, but I deliberately wanted to wait out the preparations and see how the players came back from the winter break.

"Before the qualifications, we wanted to go through and decide which players with prospects we'd rely on. We knew the others are still good, even very good, but now it's time for change and already we are seeing the positive impact."

In charge of Germany since 2006, Low's eagerness to reinvent his team once again inspired him to make an unannounced visit to Bayern Munich's training ground last March to inform Hummels, Boateng and Muller that their time with the national team was over.

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Northern Ireland's Steven Davis (right) and Germany's Mats Hummels. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

It was a ruthless move that caused shockwaves in German football and inspired Muller to record an Instagram video criticising Low's clinical approach, but it was a statement of intent from a coach determined to find a new beating heart that would fire his Euro 2020 ambition.

Putting his faith in players such as Manchester City winger Leroy Sane and former Arsenal star Serge Gnabry, Low's reshaped line-up started their qualifying push in encouraging fashion as they recorded a thrilling 3-2 away win against Holland back in March.

Yet the defensive frailties they displayed in that game were exposed in even more graphic fashion on Friday night, as the Dutch gained sweet revenge on their foes with a 4-2 win that was clinched with a late goal from Liverpool midfielder Gini Wijnaldum.

Germany took an early lead through Gnabry and seemed content to sit on that advantage and hit Ronald Koeman's Dutch side on the break as they surrendered possession to their opponents, but that tactic backfired as the duo of Jonathan Tah (Bayer Leverkusen) and Nico Schulz (Borussia Dortmund) struggled in a new-look defensive line-up.

The decision to erase Hummels and Boating from Germany's future will again be a talking point ahead of their trip to play Group C leaders Northern Ireland in Belfast on Tuesday, but Low is remaining positive despite the setback against the Dutch.

"Even though we were in the lead at 1-0, we never had the feeling that we had the game under control. We lost too many balls," admitted Low after the defeat in front of a stunned crowd in Hamburg.

"The plan was to get more control. In the first half we ran after them too much, but they became more powerful and we could not free ourselves. The Dutch could move up, we played high balls. That was not our understanding of the game, what we really want.

"We did not play well in the first half and we had very little possession. It cannot be our game to have so little possession.

"It was a bad game against Netherlands, we have to learn from it and make things better again in Northern Ireland. We really wanted to win the game today and we did that very badly."

While the possession statistics are likely to be in heavily in Germany's favour against Northern Ireland at Windsor Park, the home side can take encouragement from a fragile defence that lacks experience and confidence at international level.

Germany will be strong favourites to win in Belfast on Monday night, but it will be fascinating to see how they react if they home side score first.

Online Editors

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