GERMANY, March 26 – Eight months after the champagne corks popped following their World Cup triumph in Rio de Janeiro, head coach Joachim Loew has cause for concern as Germany’s Brazil 2014 hangover continues.
Only Lukas Podolski’s 81st-minute equaliser prevented Germany suffering a shock defeat to Asian champions Australia in Kaiserslautern on Wednesday in a 2-2 friendly draw.
Next comes Sunday’s Euro 2016 qualifier away to second-from-bottom Georgia with Germany in the unusual position of joint second in Group D, three points behind leaders Poland and level on seven with Scotland and Ireland.
But what would normally be anticipated in Germany as a routine win, now looks like a challenging away tie.
“We need to increase the tension and tackle the game there with more concentration,” insisted Loew.
“I am always prepared to take risks in friendly games, but we can no longer do that now in qualifiers.”
Loew knows Germany can ill afford to drop more Euro 2016 qualifying points with key matches against Poland, Scotland and Ireland coming up this autumn.
After more than eight years in charge of the national side, this is the first time Germany are not dominating their qualification group for a major tournament under Loew.
A precarious 2-1 win over Scotland last September was followed by October’s 2-0 defeat to Poland in Warsaw — Germany’s first loss to their neighbours in 19 meetings — and a draw at home to Ireland.
The world champions then laboured when minnows Gibraltar were seen off 4-0 in Nuremberg in November, which the visitors’ coach Allen Bula, who was recently sacked, hailed as “great result” for the part-timers, who had previously been thrashed 7-0 by both Ireland and Poland.
After Germany finishing 2014 with a 1-0 friendly win over a depleted Spain on a rain-drenched night in Vigo, Loew promised changes and significant improvements in 2015.
But his pre-match comment that they are a long way from where they were at the World Cup was only confirmed by Germany’s performance against Australia.
Marco Reus’ early goal was cancelled out by James Troisi’s header five minutes before the break, then Socceroos’ captain Mile Jedinak crashed in a free-kick on 50 minutes to put Australia 2-1 up before Podolski rescued the draw.
– Stars set to return –
Loew’s new-look three-man defence, which lasted 45 minutes, struggled to contain the Socceroos, while the experiment of using attacking midfielders Reus and Mario Goetze up front failed to sparkle, save for Reus’ early goal.
“These things don’t just work at the press of a button,” insisted the 55-year-old Loew.
“When you want to make changes, it’s necessary to give them time — we need matches and training sessions.”
Granted, Loew had barely a day to work with his squad, several of whom were involved in Sunday’s Bayern Munich-Borussia Moenchengladbach German league clash, but the purpose and poise which swept them to a fourth World Cup title is still lacking, seven games into their reign as world champions.
Loew is likely to revert to a four-man defence in Tsibili and will welcome back World Cup-winners Manuel Neuer, Thomas Mueller, Toni Kroos, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng, who all sat out the Australia draw.
In scoring for the 48th time for Germany on his 122nd appearance, Podolski bettered both Rudi Voeller and Jurgen Klinsmann’s goal tally in the famous white shirt.
It boosted the 29-year-old, who has been much maligned in the Italian media after poor performances since joining Inter Milan in January from Arsenal.
“I’m always in a good mood, should I stick my head in the ground and stop playing football?” he told reporters when quizzed about the situation in Milan.
But Germany can ill afford a fresh mishap on Sunday.
As Podolski put it: “If we don’t get the three points, things won’t look too dramatic — but they won’t look good for us either.”