Unpredictable Germany has score to settle at World Cup
BERLIN (AP) — After a disastrous World Cup four years ago as defending champion, Germany is going to Qatar with a new coach at a major tournament for the first time since 2008.
Few know what to expect from the four-time champions, and Hansi Flick’s record since taking over as coach from Joachim Löw in 2021 offers little optimism.
Germany has won only one of its last seven games — a flattering 5-2 victory over a weakened Italy — while many of the team’s problems were highlighted in a loss to Hungary at home and a fortunate 3-3 draw in England.
Against Hungary, the Germans had plenty of possession but struggled to create good chances against a hard-working defense. And against England, the team collapsed after taking a two-goal lead and was grateful in the end to Kai Havertz for rescuing the draw with an 87th-minute equalizer.
In Group E at the World Cup, Germany will face Spain, Japan and Costa Rica. All three can take encouragement from noting that the Germans have conceded in each of their last seven games under Flick.
Germany will play Oman in a warm-up match on Nov. 16, but the game in Muscat is primarily to get the players acclimated to the Arabian Peninsula ahead of the tournament in Qatar.
Flick enjoyed a trophy-laden stint at Bayern Munich and was supposed to usher in a new era for Germany following the disappointing end to Löw’s reign at last year’s European Championship. Löw’s 16-year tenure ended with a 2-0 loss to England in the second round of the pandemic-delayed Euro 2020 tournament.
Some argued it should have ended before. Löw’s high point was leading Germany to the World Cup title in Brazil in 2014, but it was followed by the low point four years later when the defending champions were eliminated in the group stage after losing to South Korea at the tournament in Russia.
Although Flick started with eight wins, including in World Cup qualifying, they came against countries like Armenia, Lichtenstein, North Macedonia and Iceland — teams Germany would have been expected to beat.
So far, there’s little sign that Flick has in any way improved the team he inherited. Löw had already abandoned his planned shakeup of the squad following the last World Cup. He recalled Thomas Müller and Mats Hummels for Euro 2020.
Müller remains a key player for Flick, but Real Madrid midfielder Toni Kroos has retired, forcing the initiative on Bayern duo Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka, with Ilkay Gündogan another option.
Germany has problems in attack, where Timo Werner’s unsuccessful spell at Chelsea appears to have had a lasting effect even after his switch to Leipzig. The 26-year-old Werner was urged to “shoot more” by Leipzig coach Marco Rose.
Flick will need find similar means of persuasion for a forward that goes too often without scoring for Germany.
Such is the dearth of out-and-out forwards for Germany that there are calls to bring Werder Bremen striker Niclas Füllkrug into the squad for Qatar. The 29-year-old Füllkrug was co-top scorer in the Bundesliga with eight goals in 11 matches, having scored 19 in the second division last season. Füllkrug also combines well with his Bremen teammates, suggesting he could adapt quickly to the national team.
One positive for Germany from recent games has been the form of 19-year-old Bayern forward Jamal Musiala, who has quickly emerged as one of the most exciting prospects in European soccer. Musiala, who could also have played for England, brings an unpredictable element to Germany’s game.
The German team’s buildup has been taking place amid a steady stream of criticism against the tournament because of alleged human rights abuses in Qatar. Some are also concerned about the reception gay fans may receive in the country, where male homosexuality is illegal.
The German soccer federation sought to address the concerns by holding a human rights congress in September, when the Qatari ambassador to Germany complained that the issues were diverting attention from the tournament.
Kimmich said during the latest series of international games that it’s too late now to complain.
“It’s difficult to deal with certain things after the award (of the tournament) in terms of requirements, for example human rights, working conditions or the impact on the climate. I think everyone knew all that before the World Cup was awarded,” Kimmich said. “I think we’re just 12 years too late.”
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