Despite the absence of a number of key players, Joachim Löw is unshakable in his optimism. France is in no way the favourite for the Euro 2016 semi-final in Marseille on Thursday said Löw. For him, the tournament began with the 7-6 penalty shoot-out win in the quarterfinal against Italy. “I love these games,” declared the national coach.
Mats Hummels is banned, Mario Gomez out of the tournament, Sami Khedira will not be fit in time for Thursday and there’s a big question hanging over Bastian Schweinsteiger’s chances of playing: the absence of key players ahead of the semi-final of the European Championship against hosts France will have a major effect the successful German side but head coach Joachim Löw is nevertheless unperturbed. After the euphoric win against Italy, he is exuding sheer unshakeable optimism. “We’ve got to come up with something. The forced changes are not a concern for the team. All the players know that it will be up to others to step into the breach. Nobody is worried about things,” said Joachim Löw before Monday’s training session in Evian-les-Bain. “All the players are in top form and in shape physically. It’s something we’ve been working on over the past weeks.”
The players set to fill in for the absentees in the starting eleven are Shkrodan Mustafi, who was a member of the team in the first Euro 2016 match against Ukraine and who will now probably replace Hummels in the three-man central defence, and Dortmund’s Julian Weigl or Emre Can from Liverpool who may well take over Khedira’s role in defensive midfield. Possible replacements for Gomez are Thomas Müller and Mario Götze. “All the players and I myself are confident in the abilities of the newcomers to the team,” said Löw.
Nothing appears able to shock the 56-year old – not even the fact that the French produced their best performance at the tournament so far on Sunday when beating Iceland 5-2, and look to be top form. “The team has to be brimming with confidence after the big win against Iceland. It’ll be backed by a fantastic crowd in Marseille. But we know what we have to do,” explained Löw. He counted France amongst the favourites even before the tournament started but it doesn’t mean the Euro 2016 host is the favourite for the encounter on Thursday. “There’s so little to choose between the two teams,” said Löw. He is looking forward to the battle for a place in the final where the winner of the match between Wales and Portugal will be the opponent. “Playing such games is great. I love to play games like the one coming up,” said Löw appearing to be really euphoric.
Born in the Black Forest, the coach used the press conference in the German’s base camp in Evian to positively influence the mood back home and the one within the team with his optimism. That he is looking forward to the clash between the two major football nations is no surprise for he can look back on an excellent record. Five times in succession now – every appearance at a major finals – he has guided his team to the last four, something no other European national coach has ever done before.
The experience they had two years ago is also the thing that leaves them with no fear of playing the hosts on home soil. “In Brazil, we had a whole country with a population of 200 million against us in the semi-final. We slept well there too. We’ll also sleep well before taking on France,” said Löw. The French also has a lot of respect for the Germans. Like before the quarterfinal against Italy when Germany’s abysmal record against Italy was the subject of much discussion, the French media keeps bringing up the bogey team topic. France is still to win an important tournament match against Germany – there was the legendary 3-3 draw in the World Cup semi-final in Seville in 1982, the 2-0 loss as clear favourites in the 1986 World Cup semi-final in Guadalajara and the 1-0 defeat two years ago in the World Cup quarterfinal in Rio. But it is also something that leaves Löw cold. “It’s nothing that makes us any stronger,” he stated. After all, Germany has proved on six occasions that, when they set their minds on reaching the final, they are quite capable of knocking out the tournament hosts in front of their own fans. At World Cups, it was the case recently in Brazil, in South Korea in 2002 and then at the European Championships in England (1996), Sweden (1992), Yugoslavia (1976) and Belgium in 1972.
For Löw, the European Championship basically started last Saturday. “I’ve got the feeling that the tournament has only just begun. We’re really enjoying ourselves and there’s a lot of euphoria,” said the exhilarated coach. However the start immediately forced them to dig deep. “Everybody was so happy after the game, it was so dramatic. Things went rather quiet after the game as 120 minutes also leave their mark psychologically. The players ran their hearts out and then the tiredness set in. “We arrived back in the hotel at 5.30 on Sunday morning and it took until 7 o’clock before everybody was in bed. After waking, then came the various pieces of bad news about injuries.
Khedira, who had to be substituted 15 minutes into the quarterfinal against Italy, complained of groin problems. A report in a football magazine that he was out of the European Championship was however untrue. “We’ll do everything we can to get him ready for a possible final,” said Löw. As for Schweinsteiger, one has to wait and see over the next few days. The 31-year old is suffering from a torn outer ligament in his knee. “Basti gritted his teeth fantastically and was strong right up until the end. Very impressive. But one thing is clear. I won’t pick players carrying knocks. Only fully fit players will be selected. We made the mistake once before and it’s something I’m not going to repeat.” He would be glad to have his captain available but the probability that the 31-year old can run out onto the pitch is rather small. The team now needs other squad members to rise up and make their mark.