Wednesday 21 March 2018

United front puts world at Germans’ feet

'Oasis of calm' makes Joachim Loew's team the one to beat, writes James Ducker

Leon Goretzka will join Bayern
Leon Goretzka will join Bayern

James Ducker

No England player would admit it but, for all the declarations of pride that come with wearing the Three Lions jersey, and for all the badge-kissing and chest-thumping, so much fear stalks that shirt these days that there must be an element of relief when they are able to vacate it and return to their clubs.

Similarly, it is hard to escape the feeling that there is a degree of trepidation in the England ranks whenever they convene for the latest international gathering.

Perhaps that is what decades of failure and underachievement do - paralyse future generations, talented or otherwise.

That uncomfortable reality was brought into sharper focus last week while observing Germany at close quarters, the chalk to England's cheese in international terms and opponents in a friendly at Wembley next month.

Germany’s Sandro Wagner challenges for the ball during the match against Azerbaijan. Photo: Pfaffenbach/Reuters
Germany’s Sandro Wagner challenges for the ball during the match against Azerbaijan. Photo: Pfaffenbach/Reuters

mini-crisis Bundesliga clubs are in a mini-crisis at the moment. Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, RB Leipzig, Cologne, Hoffenheim and Hertha Berlin have lost nine and won only one of their 12 Champions League and Europa League outings this season. Together.

It is not a pretty picture and has sparked inquests across the country.

But you would not have known much was wrong judging by the way Germany's squad bounded into Belfast excitedly extolling the virtues of the national team - "an oasis of calm", according to Bayern defender Jerome Boateng - and then proceeded to disorganise one of international football's most organised defences with almost unnerving ease at Windsor Park.

Eight of the Germany side who started in the 3-1 win against Northern Ireland last Thursday play for those Bundesliga clubs failing in Europe this term.

Playing for England merely amplifies existing insecurities. Germany have been such a serial success story that, even in times of domestic strife, players are so insulated from outside struggles that they exude a confidence and aura that, for all their accompanying talent, underlines why they will probably be the team everyone else have to beat in Russia next summer.

They believe they will win and they play like it, their supreme confidence embellished both by extraordinary cohesion and the absolute clarity of thought of Joachim Loew, for whom there will be a most disorderly queue of clubs jostling for his services should he win a second successive World Cup.

Germany’s Leroy Sane in action against Azerbaijan. Photo: Reuters
Germany’s Leroy Sane in action against Azerbaijan. Photo: Reuters

England qualified for Russia on the same night as Germany and that is where the similarities start and end.

Consider this for a moment. Germany won the European U-21 Championship this summer without their best six players in that age category because Joshua Kimmich, Leon Goretzka, Timo Werner, Leroy Sane, Niklas Sule and Julian Brandt were with the senior squad at the Confederations Cup which they also won.

Against Northern Ireland, there was no Manuel Neuer, Mario Gomez, Mesut Ozil, Jonas Hector, Marco Reus, Ilkay Gundogan, Mario Gotze, Sami Khedira or Werner, who were either injured or not selected.

It helps to explain why Germany have no need to try to squeeze an extra few years out of great, long-serving players.

The psychology of German players is reflected away from the pitch.

English reporters had been told not to ask John Stones about club matters ahead of Thursday's game against Slovenia, despite Manchester City flying high at the top of the Premier League.

By contrast, Mats Hummels was happily taking questions about the turmoil at then manager-less Bayern in his stride, even divulging that he had been busy giving his Germany team-mates the "inside track" on events in Bavaria.

Germany players are allowed to think for themselves, on and off the field, although the clearest insight into the German mindset came from Low.

Assessing his side's progress, the coach was still far from content. "We need to start denying opponents any chances to score," he said.

That is a very high bar, but as gifted as Loew's players are, it would not be possible to think in audacious terms without an unshakeable belief underpinning such ability.

It is a mentality diametrically opposed to the anxiety and apprehension that perennially afflicts England, and which serves only to entrench and deepen other inferiorities. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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