Germany primed to be hunters again after setback in Warsaw
Joachim Löw will give his new defence time, and seems unfazed by defeat to Poland
No signs of vulnerability: Germany coach Joachim Löw answers questions at a press conference in Essen. Photograph: Roland Weihrauch/EPA
“As world champions, we used to be hunter . . . Now we are prey,” says Joachim Löw with a sigh, on a damp Monday morning in the heart of the Ruhr. The German coach sits surrounded by a dazzled audience of employees in a Mercedes showroom filled with sleek, expensive machines. He looks much as he did during Germany’s thrilling World Cup ascension this summer: sleek as a figure in a Brietling advert and just a couple of degrees centigrade below serene.
As a portrait in vulnerability, Löw fails miserably. There is nothing in his demeanour that suggests he is contemplating anything other than a handsome win over Ireland when the teams meet in Gelsenkirchen tonight.
The German nation fell head over heels for this team after their enthralling march to immortality in Brazil, a tournament victory that completed Löw’s transformation from Jürgen Klinsmann’s charming sidekick to cultural icon. Still, in Essen, his local audience is worried about the defence; about the shocking sight of Polish forwards unlocking Germany’s back division.
Slowly, patiently, he teases out their concerns with a series of observations that might as well serve as coolants on the national mood. Brazil was summer, this is autumn; some things have changed.
The absence of Philipp Lahm, who for a full decade was a bundle of energy and efficiency on both extremes of the German back line, is one obvious difference. But Löw is happy to allow the newlook defence the seasons it may require to enable it to bloom.
“I would give my fullbacks a whole lot of time,” he says. “Obviously Lahm has played in this position for many years and showed world class on right and left, so it was going to be difficult to replace someone like him. This is a fantasy we can forget about.
“We have candidates like Sebastian Rudy. [Erik] Durm has pace and stamina . . . He is technically gifted and has class, but has to work on his positioning. And [Antonio] Rüdiger . . we can’t expect him to leave his mark on the German game being the age he is, but he is very good in the air and very fast. The objective is 2016, and it was always obvious to me we can’t replace Lahm without hiccups. He was in a league of his own.”
“It is something Hansi and I have been talking about for years,” Löw says. “That is where the coaches play them and, as a consequence, the back positions can be a little bit vacant. We realise this, and it is something we need to discuss.
“Is it a problem with a capital P? No. Because I have good players I want to work with, and I aim for them to get better and become more rounded and more complete. And others, then, tell me Germany hasn’t any strikers any more. Look at the scoring cards at World Cups. Germany happens to be the country that scores the most goals. Isn’t that a coincidence? Durm and Rüdiger are very young and other players, too, are immature. So we have got to give them time.”
Löw spent Sunday night watching a replay of Germany’s defeat by Poland. He says it confirmed his initial suspicions. “I don’t think throughout the whole game we allowed Poland to race away on the counter and get into scoring positions. We created chances, the only blemish being we didn’t convert them. That is a positive. But the team was too loose . . . That is something we have spoken about.”
“Well, we have seen both the Irish games,” he says. “And having analysed that, you can expect some sort of copy of Poland. It is nothing new to us that the Irish are good fighters and have commitment. They know how to defend and are well organised and they have some excellent players: Robbie Keane, McGeady, McClean, and other players coming from the wings are very good at dribbling around their opponents.
“Poland and Ireland are similar in that way, very fast on the counter.”
Löw’s eyes narrow slightly when Roy Keane’s observation is put to him, through translation, that the result in Warsaw would create in the German team the anger of an injured animal. “So if you ask me about the mood in the German camp . . . it can’t be brilliant, can it?
“Our players are open to self-criticism and they know full well they have wasted too many goal opportunities. Had we scored early it would be almost a given that we decide the game and come home with the win.
“I think fury is the wrong word. I think what we feel is determination that we really badly want these three points against Ireland. It would be wrong to say that there is incredible disappointment.”
The German world champions in a mood for atonement on home soil: it could not sound any more forbidding. It hardly sounds like the behaviour of a hunted team.