For the first time since the World Cup in Brazil, Germany’s national team once again faces a vital period of matches. In the qualifying phase for the 2016 European Championship in France, September marks the start of a “critical autumn”. After getting off to a slow start in Group D, the world champions are under a spot of pressure in the remaining four matches – against Poland (Frankfurt/4 September), in Scotland (7 September), in Ireland (8 October) and against Georgia (Leipzig/11October). The team coached by Joachim Löw cannot afford to slip up if they are not to endanger the projected group win and with it the ticket to EURO 2016.
With 13 points from six matches, Germany is currently only lying second. Though it would be enough for them to qualify directly, Scotland in third – a place that would qualify them for the play-offs – are only two points behind the Germans who are one point adrift of top-of-the-table Poland. Even though their strongest rivals, who won the home game in Warsaw, would almost get out of sight with a win when the two meet, Löw is optimistic going into the final weeks of matches. The confidence he has in his team is big despite it currently being in a rebuilding phase. Excuses are not allowed by the 55-year old and he makes no bones about his aims: “We have to make things clear,” said Löw at the SportBild Awards ceremony on 17 August. He is demanding two wins from the two trickiest matches against Poland and away in Ireland: “It’s the only way to go about things.”
The squad for the first of the two remaining qualifying double packs will be named by Löw on 28 August. It will give everybody a first indication of the players he intends to take to the EURO finals which will take place from 10 June to 10 July next year. After wining the World Cup in Rio de Janeiro, Löw did a lot of experimenting and brought in new blood. One should not get the idea that he sitting back after the success. However the world champions have also lost the dominance and brilliance they showed last summer. For Löw it is something he is prepared to accept. There is a great deal of respect for their rivals. He is convinced some of them would quickly overtake his team if no action was taken. “We again have to move forwards as football is progressing and developing incredibly quickly all the time. We can’t afford to miss out,” explained Löw when taking about his squad planning and tactical ideas.
At the finals in France, there will be 24 instead of the previous 16 nations for the first time. In 1996, the number of participants was raised from eight to 16. In France there will be six groups of four from which the top two placed teams will qualify directly for the round of the last 16 which will also include the four best third-placed teams. The new modus means there are now 51 matches in the four-week tournament and therefore 20 more than in the past. Though less strong opponents await the favourites in the preliminary group stage, Löw is not particularly impressed by the increase in numbers where 24 out of a possible 54 countries will be taking part.
In as early as when the draw was made for the qualifying groups in February 2014, Löw made his opinions very clear. “As a coach, I feel the increase in the number of participants at a European Championship is questionable.” However a feared consequence of the similarly criticised new qualifying modus failed to materialise. Tension is huge, the groups are evenly balanced.
It means the four remaining encounters will not degenerate into gentle practice matches – the new-look German team finally has to start firing on all cylinders. It was only partially the case in the previous outings after the World Cup – on several occasions the players were even booed by the crowd. Though his team has not yet even reached the European Championships, the rebuilding work over the past 12 months is also being made with a view to the World Cup in Russia. “We have to continually occupy ourselves with the football in the immediate and long-term future and with the measures we have to take if we are to win the 2018 World Cup.”