EVEN if Germany leave Russia on Sunday without the title, it won’t be a disappointment. Their plan was not to win silverware this year. So far-sighted is coach Joachim Loew that he was using the FIFA Confederations Cup to test players for the big one next year.
Germany want to defend their FIFA World Cup crown.
Loew, however, might have a selection conundrum for world football’s showcase tournament. His experimental squad of young and untested players has become the story of the Confederations Cup with some breathtaking performances in their run to the final, most notably a 4-1 dismantling of Mexico in the semi-final.
Timo Werner, Leon Goretzka, Lars Stindl, Julian Brandt, Emre Can and Niklas Sule have all impressed at the tournament. This team, without a whole bevy of stars including Manuel Neuer, Mats Hummels, Jerome Boateng, Mesut Ozil, Sami Khedira, Toni Kroos, Thomas Mueller, Mario Goetze and Marco Reus, making the final shows Germany’s depth.
Before the tournament, Loew said two or three players from his Confederations Cup squad might be able to make the cut for the World Cup. They would probably have been captain and attacker Julian Draxler, and defenders Joshua Kimmich, Shkodran Mustafi and Jonas Hector. And he indicated he faces a tough selection task for the World Cup.
“We have outdone expectations,” Loew said in Saturday’s pre-match press conference. “What will happen next year is on a completely different page but they players who’ve played here have left a very favourable impression.”
Victory against Chile on Sunday will not only see the players pressing further their claim to be in football’s big mass but they would also help Germany clinch the only title missing from their impressive trophy collection.
It would be some story too, of a second-string team punching their way — all the way — in a tournament that features all the continental champions. They can play without pressure, they’ve already fulfilled their pre-tournament objective of reaching the semi-finals.
“Now we want to win the title and reward ourselves for our performances,” Goretzka, Germany’s star of the semi-final with a brace, said.
For Chile, meanwhile, it’s exactly the opposite. They set out for Russia with coach Juan Antonio Pizzi calling up all his big stars with the aim of winning the title, which would be a third in three years following the 2015 Copa America and the 2016 Copa America Centenario.
They met Germany in the group stage, playing out a 1-1 draw en route to finishing runners-up to earn a semi-final against Portugal. They prevailed on penalties over the European champions but they surely wouldn’t want to finish second best to Germany this time around.
“We’re clear in our heads and our minds,” Chile captain Claudio Bravo, who saved all three Portugal penalties in the semi-final, said at a news conference on Friday. “We’ve reached the final but that isn’t cause for celebration. We’ve had a high objective and that is to win the title. We have the players to compete at this level.”
It was a message echoed by Chile’s star striker Alexis Sanchez.
“We have respect for Germany,” he said, sitting alongside Bravo. “But every player in the team feels capable of winning.”
To win, Chile will have to succeed in an intriguing battle where both teams have a high-pressing style.
Both teams try to win the ball in the opposition half, the only slight difference being that with Chile, the movement is a rush — they come at the opposition from all directions, while Germany have a fluid shape-shifting style which sees them have players in key positions to give them several options.
Despite the young players, Germany have shown their trademark ruthless efficiency in front of goal. In Werner, it seems, Loew has found the striker who he’s been looking for to replace Miroslav Klose, who retired after the 2014 World Cup.
Since then, Loew has tried Mario Gomez and Sandro Wagner, while even opting for Mueller as a false number nine during Euro 2016 where their need for a centre forward was brutally exposed when they lost out to France in the semi-finals. But in Werner, who has three goals in the Confederations Cup, he looks to have found the final piece in his 2018 jigsaw.
Germany are hoping their youthful exuberance and determination leads them to glory.
“We’re a young side and very proud of reaching the final,” captain Draxler said on Saturday. “We’re looking forward and we know Chile is a very strong opponent but we want to deliver the best.”
Germany only have two players, Draxler and Mustafi, from the squad of the 2014 World Cup. Chile, meanwhile, have a squad of battle-hardened players with vast experience on their side.
They have players who have been in these situations, in crucial matches. They are a side drilled to play in games such as these.
And midfield dynamo Arturo Vidal stated winning the Confederations Cup would prove they’re the best in the world.
“We’ve proven our value on the pitch,” he said at the news conference on Saturday. “We’ve beaten Argentina in the [Copa] finals twice and we beat Portugal to reach the final. If we win tomorrow, we surely are the best team in the world.”
While Germany can play without the weight of expectation at the Krevstovsky Stadium on Sunday, it’s all or bust for Chile.
Published in Dawn, July 2nd, 2017