FEW teams marry style and substance like ‘Die Mannschaft’, writes Brendan O'Brien.
Four-time world champions, three-time kings of Europe and, in recent years, Joachim Low’s side has added more than a touch of glitz and glamour to Germany’s traditionally stolid attributes, both on the pitch and away from it.
Yesterday, the head coach took to a purpose-built press conference stage in the impossibly wealthy surrounds of a LUEG car dealership — the country’s largest Mercedes Benz distributors — in the industrial city of Essen.
Fashionable as always, he exuded a sense of calm and authority with a figure-hugging black V-neck sweater and oversized watch as he faced a media swarm eager to probe deeper into the reasons behind Saturday’s shock defeat to Poland in Warsaw.
Germany lost, in the main, because they failed to score despite having 28 attempts on Wojciech Szczesny’s goal, but the post-mortem yesterday threw up contributing factors as diverse as World Cup fatigue and their youthful full-backs.
The media came across as far more alarmed by recent events than Low, but there was an acceptance from the coach that the national team was experiencing some turbulence on the back of the rarefied heights they reached in South America.
Germany have now lost to Argentina and Poland, and laboured to a 2-1 win at home to Scotland, and Low accepts that some bodies and minds were inevitably taking longer to reboot than others in the wake of the World Cup.
Real Madrid’s Toni Kroos, for one, has said that the load on the top players is simply too high and, though Low concurred, he skirted around the borders of arrogance by pointing out that dealing with success is hardly anything new for Germany.
“We have experienced this before,” said Low in relation to previous successes at major tournaments. “Post-tournament is never easy. Some players have more difficulties than others to get back into a steady rhythm.
“Over the years, players become more susceptible to injury and lose their form. There are different types of players who have problems, but it is not any different now than it was. As world champions… we used to be the hunter. Now we are the prey.”
Clearly, if Low has problems, then they are of the first-world variety.
Time and again, he was asked questions about his two young full-backs, Stuttgart’s Antonio Rüdiger and Borussia Dortmund’s Erik Durm, who have clearly been identified as weak links after the woe in Warsaw.
An Irish press pack cognisant of the fact that midfielder David Meyler will probably wear the No 2 jersey this evening could only smile wistfully at that, although there are genuine concerns about the defensive flanks that Ireland could probe.
THE debate at one point dug as deep as the reasons why Germany, and the football federation specifically, are not producing more full-backs and the steps being taken to rectify that.
It was a revealing glimpse into the collective mind of the German footballing fraternity and a microcosm of the attention to detail that made their root and branch reorganisation of the game at all levels so successful after their failure at Euro 2000.
As for Rüdiger and Durm, Low backed both to the hilt. Warsaw aside, the German coach knows he still has wiggle room in a group they will go on to win. Euro 2016, not October 2014, is the focus and so his youngsters will be afforded time and space to grow.
Yet, all the talk of full-backs took on added significance when Low was asked to sum up the difference between Martin O’Neill’s Ireland and the Giovanni Trapattoni model that conceded nine goals in two games in the last campaign.
It may be that Ireland can take flight on the wings.
“I have seen both Irish games (against Georgia and Gibraltar) and, having analysed that, we can expect a copy of Poland. There is nothing new to us, the Irish are good fighters and play with a lot of commitment.
“They know how to defend and are well organised but, at same time, like Poland, they have four excellent players. Like Robbie Keane, who is experienced and has an eye for goal. And McGeady and McClean who are very good at dribbling at their opponents.
“Poland and Ireland are very similar, fast on the counter and dangerous crossing the ball. They come here with confidence. They are group leaders. With three teams maybe qualifying, they have more than a reasonable chance of making it to France.”
Germany’s are way beyond reasonable, of course. As their English friends might say: keep calm and carry on. Tonight, they expect it to be business as usual.
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