SOCHI: World Cup holders Germany face enormous pressure ahead of their second group match against Sweden, dubbed an ‘early final’, with Joachim Loew’s team knowing defeat on Saturday would effectively end their campaign.
The pre-tournament talk in Germany focused on the bid to become the first team for 56 years to retain the World Cup.
But after a shock 1-0 defeat to Mexico, the four-time winners must beat the Swedes in Sochi to be sure of staying in the tournament.
Suddenly, the sweet taste of victory in Rio de Janeiro four years ago seems a long time ago.
“Everyone is aware that this is our first ‘final’, it’s annoying that it comes so early, but it’s self-inflicted,” team director Oliver Bierhoff said.
An atrocious first-half display against Mexico stunned fans in football-mad Germany, who have grown used to regular success.
The World Cup winners, accustomed to easy questions from their press and the backing of adoring fans, have been stung by a swarm of criticism.
Former international players have toured TV studios, calling for under-performing players like Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedira to be dropped.
Behind the high walls of the team hotel outside Moscow, ‘frank words’ were exchanged between the players.
“There has never been such strong communication within the team before,” captain Manuel Neuer said.
The uncomfortable situation has blown apart the myth of Germany being a ‘tournament team’, a phrase Toni Kroos used before the first game to describe a team that always raises its game when trophies are at stake.
“Perhaps we took it a bit too lightly, [in thinking] that when the tournament started we would be fresh and have our usual strengths on the pitch,” admitted Thomas Mueller. “We were wrong to assume that.”
The German public now demands wins over Sweden, then South Korea next Wednesday in Kazan, to push them up the Group ‘F’ table, putting the squad under “enormous pressure”, added Mueller.
The mind games have started.
This is the first crisis facing Loew after 12 success-filled years, which saw Germany always reach at least the semi-finals of every major tournament.
Meanwhile, Germany are sweating on fitness of central defender Mats Hummels, who is unlikely to feature game against Sweden.
“Mats Hummels will most likely not be able to play because he injured his neck in training yesterday and it has not improved until today,” Low told reporters on Friday.
“He has not trained and obviously there are still a few hours but usually these things do not improve considerably overnight and tomorrow we need fit players. I think it makes no sense [for him to play].”
A likely replacement for Hummels is Antonio Rudiger but Low said he would wait until Saturday to see Hummels’ condition.
Published in Dawn, June 23rd, 2018