Thursday 13 December 2018

Low prepares to ring changes as Germany face up to early ordeal

Mesut Ozil has been under fire in Germany
Mesut Ozil has been under fire in Germany

James Ducker

For a man peering into the eye of a storm, Joachim Low cut a remarkably serene figure yesterday.

He was unflappable as he fielded an array of pressing questions with that familiar stony-faced glint but did not pass up an opportunity to lighten the mood when the opportunity arose.

If only his team had exuded such calm and conviction in their opening match against Mexico last Sunday, a result more shocking for the manner of defeat than the actual loss itself, their position at this World Cup would not be so fragile.

If Germany lose to Sweden and Mexico avoid defeat in the earlier game against South Korea, the world champions will become the fourth holders in the past five tournaments to be gone at the group stage.

In eight tournaments as assistant coach or head coach of the Germans, Low has never exited before the semi-finals, but the prospect of joining France (2002), Italy (2010) and Spain (2014) on that list of cursed champions looms large.

"Of course, as the title holder and as the Confederations Cup winner, the situation we face now is a different one," Low said.

The fallout from the Mexico debacle has been brutal. Striker Mario Gomez likened the reaction back home to "an avalanche" and even Low admitted there was "a lot to digest" in the 48 hours that followed, although the fiercest criticism probably came from within the camp itself.

A crisis meeting was held on Tuesday when frank words were exchanged between the players, Low and his staff, and, publicly, there has been no attempt to mask failings.

Low is not prone to knee-jerk reactions but the poverty of his team's display against Mexico, when they overcommitted in attack and left gaping holes for their opponents to exploit on the transition, clearly shocked him and he could make four or five changes against Sweden.

One has been enforced. Mats Hummels damaged a vertebrae in his neck in training on Thursday and is expected to be replaced by his Bayern Munich team-mate Niklas Sule.

Jonas Hector could come in for Marvin Plattenhardt at left-back, Marco Reus is likely to replace Julian Draxler on the left flank and Ilkay Gundogan may deputise for Sami Khedira.

Timo Werner could retain Low's trust up front, despite Gomez knocking on the door.

Mesut Ozil was the target for the most sustained criticism but the Arsenal playmaker received a show of confidence from Low, who, for all his dismay at what he witnessed in Moscow, reminded Germany's critics that the players were too experienced to allow one poor result to rock their confidence.

"We're all subject to criticism in terms of performance but this deep trust in players who have been playing three or four years at a top level will not be shaken by a single match," he said.

"They've won titles, so why should that change on the basis of one match? It's not just Mesut Ozil, all the players received their fair share of criticism. But as far as Ozil is concerned, everyone knows I hold him in high esteem."

Germany had a dreadful time dealing with Mexico's speed on the break but Low is confident there will be no repeat.

"We've talked about that a lot - how can we avoid fast breaks on the counter attack," he said. I am convinced the players will show a reaction."

They will have to. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Germany v Sweden

Where: Fisht Stadium, Sochi

Capacity: 48,000

When: 7.0, tomorrow, live RTé 2 and ITV1

Key stats: If Germany lose to Sweden and Mexico earn at least one point against South Korea then the reigning world champions will have been eliminated in the group stage for the first time since 1938.

  • Germany have managed only one victory – a 2-1 over Saud Arabia – in their last seven matches.
  • The Swedes have had their share of big wins to qualify, finishing behind France and ahead of the Netherlands in their group. They beat Italy 1-0 over two legs in the World Cup qualifying playoffs.

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