Poland beaten 3-1, then 3-2 against Scotland. The German national team took over top position in qualifying Group D for the 2016 European Championship with six points won from the two September matches. National coach Joachim Loew had not only expected this, but he had demanded this improvement from his internationals as a matter of course. The outstanding level of the team’s performances in Frankfurt against Poland, and versus the Scots at Hampden Park in Glasgow, the oldest stadium in the world, brought praise: “We now have to continue like this. We played well twice”, said Manuel Neuer. “Of course we are irritated about the conceded goals”, added the Munich goalkeeper, who was not at his best for the opposition’s first goal in Glasgow when he let the ball bounce off Mats Hummels’s thigh, so causing the Dortmund player to score an own goal.
One point is still required to qualify for the tournament in France from June 10 to July 10, 2016. “A draw with Ireland in October would do, but our aim is of course to make everything crystal clear with a win in Dublin and retain top spot”, Loew explained. Three days later (October 10) the European qualification will be concluded with a match against Georgia in Leipzig. But Loew is already talking about his aim of winning a fourth European title for the German Football Association (DFB) in Paris next summer. “We want to emboss a new era”, said Jerome Boateng. The central defender, who has been in top form for more than a year, reiterated Loew. Spain, the 2008 and 2012 European and 2010 World champions, set the mark for the German national coach with these three successive titles. But with one all-important difference: the German triple title haul would be World-European-World. For Loew is looking forward three years. EURO 2016 would be just a “whistle stop” on the road to successfully defending their title at the 2018 World Cup finals in Russia.
Glasgow was not just a simple journey for the 55-year-old to another international match, fortunately with the satisfactory conclusion: ticked off, duty done. He had never before experienced Hampden Park, not as a player or coach. That’s why he was very impressed by the atmosphere sparked by 52,000 spectators. On the other side Scotland’s coach was very much taken with the German team. “The Germans are rightly world champions, for they play a fantastic passing game, even when under pressure”. The praise from his coaching opposite number Gordon Strachan triggered satisfaction with Loew, because it characterised his team’s special hallmark so well, and it came from a former world-class player.
But the national coach also had a special moment of pleasure. He was astonished by his team, totally amazed how good it was – especially without the customary weeks of training as prior to major tournaments.
“I am really surprised how quickly the team translated the specifications within two, three days”, Loew said. He had not reckoned with that after the scruffy season which followed the winning of the title in Rio. “But when all are together, everything happens faster than I thought”. A week ago at their get-together in Frankfurt Loew had straightened out ‘two, three things we must urgently correct’. But the German national team, the World Cup champions, simply are a representative team with, particularly in the past season, regular changes in the squad and without permanent training sessions together. To achieve the cohesion within a top club team is much more difficult for a national team. But in the pressure situation of not being permitted to lose any more points, a few admonishing words by Loew were sufficient for the team to quickly unearth again what had seemed to have been submerged for twelve months.
Against Poland and Scotland they intermittently showed their offensive strength with extra-class combinations, but still lacked the killer punch, however. And in defence there are still many problems, particularly with set-pieces. Both Scottish goals were so conceded – the first after a free kick, the second from a corner. “Much is portrayed as if it is always easy for us to win. I think the expectations are almost arrogant because it entails denying the capability of opponents to play football. It was the same at the World Cup. But there we struggled through five of seven matches, and in hindsight it is pretended as if it was really easy“, said Mats Hummels. But ultimately it was the enthusiasm which the national team showed in Frankfurt and Glasgow which went to prove -- the World Cup champion team still lives.
In Glasgow Loew emphasised however that the current team is still far from being ideal. “I never plan with that at such an early time”, he said. He still has ten months until the start of the European Championship. He wants to see Sami Khedira and Marco Reus in his regular team. And he made it clear that Emre Can was just “cast” in the last two matches, which means a screening test for him in the unusual position of right defender under competitive conditions. The Liverpool FC midfielder passed tolerably against Poland, but against Scotland he was the weakest player. His mistakes led to both conceded goals, but he assisted with the goal for 2-1. “Naturally there is room for improvement, and of course we must attend to him”, said Loew. It seems clear that other candidates such as Matthias Ginter, Sebastian Rudy and Tony Ruediger will be tested again in the future. On the left side, however, Jonas Hector continued to collect points for a regular place with his respectable, safety-intent game. The battle for the places 1-14 has started in the team. A good example is the recovery of Ilkay Guendogan who issued a warning, especially for World Cup champions Mesut Oezil and Bastian Schweinsteiger, who no longer perform on their previous level, that regular places must be constantly defended.