The German national team’s first day at their European Championship base camp in Evian-les-Bains ended with a major setback. Antonio Rüdiger suffered a serious injury just before the end of the public training session. Four days before the first Euro 2016 match against Ukraine, Joachim Löw decided to call up Jonathan Tah, a model pupil from Leverkusen, to the German national squad.
Everything had begun so well. Evian, the spa town on the banks of Lake Geneva, had spruced itself up – standing in a flower bed on the lake promenade was an oversized football boot painted in black-red and gold. The reception the German international players, who arrived at their Hotel Ermitage at 5 o’clock on Tuesday afternoon, received was very warm – Welcome to Evian. On the road into the town was a pink banner with a greeting in German – “Welcome home to our home. Evian”. And the German players put on a little show immediately upon arrival as a way of saying thank-you.
The Deutsche Fußball Bund (DFB – the German Football Association) had arranged their first training session in France in Stade Camille Fournier for 6.30 the same evening. The project of bringing back the fourth European Championship title to Germany had now begun in the country of the Euro 2106 hosts. About 2,000 fans, including many children cheerfully waving the Germany flags that had lain on the seats, turned up. “It’s wonderful here. The conditions and facilities are fantastic and the people are very friendly,” said DFB President Reinhard Grindel. 21 squad members enjoyed a gentle training session in the sun. Mats Hummels, like in Ascona, only did some light jogging, and Lukas Podolski was given the day off after the birth of his second child, Maya.
And then it happened in a practice game. After a harmless challenge on Thomas Müller, Antonio Rüdiger was left lying on the grass. Bastian Schweinsteiger immediately called for a physiotherapist and Müller tended to the injured player. Eventually the limping AS Roma defender had to be helped off the pitch. The worst fears were then confirmed shortly after 10 o’clock: Rüdiger has ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament which means he will be out of the game for the next six months. The incident was “extremely unfortunate” and he really feels for Rüdiger said Löw the next morning.
Löw assured everybody at the first news conference in the DFB Media Centre in Evian-les-Bains on Wednesday that they still have high hopes of winning the title. The 56-year old was not going to let himself be bothered by setbacks, however hefty. “We certainly won’t be downgrading our aims,” said the World Cup winning coach. It has all come after Marco Reus and Ilkay Gündogan, two key squad members, had to pull out injured. Rüdiger was a certainty to replace Mats Hummels at the heart of the defence in the opening European Championship match against Ukraine. “We’ve decided to call up Jonathan Tah as a replacement. I wanted a central defender for a central defender.”
On Wednesday, the 20-year old Tah was on holiday in USA – in Miami, Florida to be more exact. The Leverkusen player, who was actually earmarked for the squad for the Olympic Games, had been working on his fitness for three weeks in USA with one of the country’s top private trainers. After appearing 45 times in the Leverkusen starting eleven, he played his last match of the season at the start of May. He missed the last three matches after suffering food poisoning which left him having to spend a few days in hospital. “One knows that Jonathan is not the kind of person to laze round on holiday,” said Löw. Even though “Jona”, as he is nicknamed in Leverkusen, has not played a competitive game for a while and has only played 45 minutes for the national team – in the second half of the 3-2 defeat against England at the end of March – Löw nevertheless did not choose a player like Hoffenheim’s Sebastian Rudy, a member of the provisional squad but who was omitted from the final 23-man squad. Before the 2014 World Cup, Löw pulled Christoph Kramer out of the hat and also overlooked a player that had been in the provisional squad.
It is highly unlikely that Tah’s role will be anything more that than of a substitute. “We’ll quickly get him working together with the team,” explained Löw. The same applies to Hummels who started working with a ball again on Wednesday so that the prospects of the World Cup winner will be back in the starting line-up for the second European Champs game against Poland are improving all the time.
Löw has named two alternatives for the injured Rüdiger to cover Hummels. “Two players come into question: either Mustafi will play in central defence or Höwedes will move over. It’s something we’ll try out in the rest of the week. I’m going to take my time before deciding.” Then Löw gave an inkling that Benedikt Höwedes is in with a good chance. The Schalke player and Boateng formed a good partnership when Germany won the U-21 European Championship title in 2009 said Löw.