The fourth World Cup win for the “Deutschen Fußball-Bund” (German Football Association - DFB) has filled national coach Joachim Löw with pride. However the 54-year old, who has been in charge of the German team for the past eight years, still has a burning desire further success. The 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil is history and the new focus is the UEFA EURO 2016 in France where the DFB eleven will also be looking to return home with a fourth title. “After the big final in Rio, the next big aim should and has to be the European Championship final in Paris,” said Löw at the start of September when the new international season began.
He also set an unmistakably clear interim target when naming the squad for the next qualifying matches – against Poland in Warsaw on 11 October and Ireland in Gelsenkirchen on 14 October – after the 2-1 defeat of Scotland: “The games give us the chance of putting daylight between us and the others in the group. They are enormously important for the rest of the campaign,” said Löw. Past successes are no longer important, none of the players that won the World Cup by beating Argentina 1-0 in Rio on 13 July and who thrashed record World Champions Brazil 7-1 in Belo Horizonte are guaranteed a place in the starting eleven. Löw will have to make changes to his World Cup team on the journey to Paris.
The German national coach let his intentions be known by nominating newcomer Karim Bellarabi for the double bill against Poland and Ireland. Leverkusen’s Director of Football Rudi Völler had recommended the winger also because the 24-year old otherwise might have decided to play for Morocco, the country of origin of his father. “He’s deserved the chance after playing exceptionally well for his club. He’s unbelievably good in one-on-one situations and an excellent alternative up front,” said Löw. For the first time this year, the coach has also called up Borussia Mönchengladbach’s Max Kruse to the squad in which Bastian Schweinsteiger, Sami Khedira, Marco Reus and Mario Gomez are all missing due to injury.
Löw is orienting himself on a song title released in 1982 by the German singer Ina Deter: “Neue Männer braucht das Land.” (“The country needs new men”). Age, handsomeness and friendliness are not criteria that Löw considers when choosing his squads for international games. The former SC Freiburg striker has always made it very clear that performances are the only things that count. Famous stars are by no means certain of retaining their places and up-and-coming youngsters can be sure of being given the chance to appear for their country’s senior team. Philipp Lahm, Miroslav Klose and Per Mertesacker have retired from the national team and others that travelled to Brazil are by no means certainties. Lukas Podolski is no more than a reserve at Arsenal and this after Löw only used him for cameos appearances at the World Cup. Podolski stresses that he is satisfied with the role. Capped 117 times for his country, the German appears to be on the verge of leaving his club after the Londoners brought in Danny Welbeck from Manchester United to bolster the squad which also includes the top striker, Olivier Giroud who is currently injured. Big clubs like Juventus and the Bundeliga’s VfL Wolfsburg and Schalke 04 all seem to have had 29-year old on their radar in summer.
One thing is for certain: players that either don’t or only very seldom play for their clubs will not find favour with Löw. The coach also has a few alternatives, especially for the left-sided striking role. Reus, who missed the World Cup because of injury, returned to the team for the friendly against Argentina (2-4) and Scotland (2-1) and is a certainty for Löw’s first team. However the Dortmund player picked up another injury in the Scotland game and will be out of the game for a while. And he is not the only player currently out of action that Löw is banking on for the EURO 2016. The man most likely to replace Klose - Mario Gomez - again injured himself playing for Fiorentina after making his comeback in the DFB team. And Holger Badstuber is again sidelined at Bayern Munich after Löw informed him that he stood a good chance of being selected for the European Championships. Football these days is sometimes a brutal business for professional players.
There are two maybe even three problem positions in the German eleven. They are the left and right wing backs, especially after Philip Lahm, who was able to do a good job on both sides, decided to retire from international football. In contrast to the World Cup where, in particular on the left, the converted central defender Benedikt Höwedes convincingly interpreted the role more defensively, the plan is for the positions to be filled again by offensive-minded players. However there aren’t many alternatives in the Bundesliga. Höwedes or Jerome Boateng could play on the right but Löw now sees them as central defenders where Mats Hummels is a regular.
Recently Löw surprised everybody by picking Sebastian Rudy on the right of the defence. And he also named Antonio Rüdiger as a candidate for the position even though he mainly plays in the middle of a four-man defensive line at Stuttgart. “Perhaps he can grow into the role a little. He’s quick and strong,” said Löw when muting Rüdiger as a possible Lahm successor. On the left, Löw seems intent on entrusting the job to Erik Durm. The World Cup squad member has recently however had to share the position with Marcel Schmelzer at Dortmund but Löw has nevertheless called up Durm again for the October internationals.
The third problem position is that of a real spearhead striker. After being selected for the preliminary World Cup squad, Kevin Volland was not taken to Brazil and Kevin Kuranyi has said he would do everything to be able to play for the national team again. Should Löw ever decide to allow the Brazilian-born German back into the fold then it would be a major surprise. After not being picked for the starting eleven or even as a substitute for the World Cup qualifying match against Russia in October 2008, Kuranyi player simply got up and left the Dortmund stadium at half time without even saying a word to Löw, who immediately declared that he would never pick Kuranyi again. With Kruse back in the squad, the former Schalke and current Dynamo Moscow player’s chances of a reprieve have not improved.
One man has to be an excellent prospect for the future: Davie Selke, the 19-year old “goal sniffer” at Werder Bremen whose six goals helped the U-19s win the European Championship in July 2014. On the other hand Löw has often made it quite clear that he is very happy to play with a “false nine”. Mario Götze or Thomas Müller, who are actually offensive midfielders, and possibly Mesut Özil are all quite capable of playing in the spearhead.
Some of the five World Champions that didn’t get onto the pitch in Brazil have a good chance of making the team at some stage – Matthias Ginter as a central defender and Durm, goalkeeper Ron-Robert Zieler, who can move up the pecking order ahead of the experienced oldie Roman Weidenfeller.
And Kevin Großkreutz is also somebody Löw will not completely lose sight of even though he hasn’t been chosen for the matches in Warsaw and Gelsenkirchen. The same applies to Shkodran Mustafi who was in the starting line-up for the World Cup group games against Portugal and Ghana and in the last 16 encounter against Algeria.
In the transition period between the World Cup and the European Championship, Ilkay Gündogan, should he find form again after returning from a year-long injury lay-off, could well play a role especially as the experienced No. 6s like Khedira and Schweinsteiger tend to be a little injury prone. Other players that could come into the reckoning for a new championship-winning team are freshmen Christian Günther, Max Meyer, Oliver Sorg, Sebastian Jung (they all were in the side for the friendly against Poland in May 2014), Robin Knoche, Stefan Bell, Emre Can, Johannes Geis, Moritz Leitner, Jonas Hofmann, Leonardo Bittencourt and Sebastian Rode. All are all considered to be highly talented and all have already displayed their class in the Bundesliga. Just how quickly things can go is shown by the example of Christoph Kramer who was the final player to make the World Cup squad after the Poland friendly in May. Sent on to the pitch as a substitute against Algeria, he was even in the starting line-up for the final against Argentina. For the next EURO 2016 qualifying game against Gibraltar (14 November in Nuremberg) and the friendly against Spain (18 November in Vigo), Löw has already announced that he would leave out several stars to give them a rest. It will be a big chance for the youngsters – world champions don’t come in for any special treatment from Löw.