By their faults you shall judge them.
World champions Germany came to Dublin’s leafy Ballsbridge hotel belt, and by the end of their pre-match press conference, it was clear that Ireland and tonight’s Group D qualifier was well down the list of issues they faced this week.
While Martin O’Neill is sweating over a squad decimated by injuries, suspensions and the delegation of parenting duties, the Germans are mildly exercised with how their superstars will be after a dramatic weekend.
There was some anxiety over how the Bayern and Dortmund players would get along following Sunday’s clash between the Bundesliga giants (Munich won 5-1), and how Mats Hummels, in particular, would be welcomed after publicly criticising his team mates.
The Dortmund captain, nonplussed by how his statements were turned into a national ‘scandal’, gave perhaps the most wonderfully understated and dismissive response – one which reinforced just what Ireland are up against tonight.
“It’s not a new situation for me at all, there have been many occurrences when we have met up after important games,” Hummels said.
“If you recall we had the 2014 DFB Cup final (when Bayern beat Dortmund) after which we played a fairly successful World Cup.”
Fairly successful indeed; and the team bus outside the Intercontinental Hotel in Dublin left you in no doubt.
“Meister fahren Mercedes” (Champions drive Mercedes) it read on the windscreen of the coach that had been sent ahead of the troops to Dublin.
No need for modesty when you walk the walk, is there?
In the lobby, Mesut Ozil, Hummels and others strolled about with the demeanour of a family on the final day of a two-week package holiday, while coach Jogi Low was there drenched in black with a welcoming smile and ‘hallo’ for the media as they walked toward the chandeliered conference room.
The only thing that appeared to cause any mild irritation for Low was the condition in which his players came to Dublin.
“It is a bit of an unusual pre-match phase, in that we will have to play Thursday and then Sunday, and just last Sunday many of my players were involved with league games — with Bayern v Dortmund, Arsenal v United, Atletico v Real Madrid...” he said, with a weariness Martin O’Neill would kill for.
“That has a knock-on effect in terms of the tiredness of players. When I looked at them I could see they needed a day of regeneration – which I gave them. We resolved to have just one training session today — which I’m convinced will suffice to give us a a good performance.”
There followed more questions about prospective Liverpool coach Jurgen Klopp (“he lives, breathes, eats, thinks football”, Hummels said) than Irish players, but Low did his best to convince us there might be a proper match taking place tonight, when he said Ireland were superior to Scotland – who battled to a 3-2 defeat in Glasgow last month.
“I think Ireland are famous for defending very well,” he began, “and if you look at the past encounters of our two nations, then you don’t always get 6-1 results. In most cases it was a game of attrition.
“Physically they are stronger than Scotland and also as far as attacking play goes they are more imaginative than the Scots, so we have to look out for that. They know how to make life hard for us, they can be very physical, and can score on the counter.
“They have it all to play for – they’re still in with a chance to qualify directly for France, and have an excellent chance to come third.
“They will fight to the very last minute.”
Hummels spoke of the passionate atmosphere he expects in the stands and on the pitch, but it was hard to suppress a smile when Low let his guard down momentarily to deny his Euro 2016 squad was finalised.
“We have a long list of players who can enter the squad, the door is always open, we’re lucky there are young players coming through the Bundesliga,” he said, “the decision won’t be made until May 2016.”
Germany haven’t yet qualified, but you sense they have already sent some Mercedes coaches to France.
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