Berlin, Germany, Mar 19 – Germany coach Joachim Loew hopes to prove his critics wrong and open 2019 with a win when his new-look team host Serbia in a friendly in Wolfsburg on Wednesday.
Loew, who arrived in Wolfsburg later than expected due to a dental operation this week, is hoping to bounce back from a painful 2018, in which Germany suffered an early World Cup exit and were relegated from the top tier of the UEFA Nations League.
The friendly against Serbia is a warm-up for Sunday’s prestigious opening Euro 2020 qualifier away to the Netherlands with the Germans hunting revenge after a 3-0 thrashing at the hands of the Oranje last October at the Amsterdam Arena.
Amid fears that German football is in decline, the 59-year-old Loew is under pressure to show that he can build a new era of success around a younger generation of players.
Yet he has also faced fierce criticism for his decision to strike veteran World Cup winners Mats Hummels, Jerome Boateng and Thomas Mueller from the national team set-up, falling offside with their club Bayern Munich in the process.
The controversial call has been seen as a gamble, which has heightened the pressure ahead of Wednesday’s game.
“Loew is going all-in in a high-stakes game of poker,” wrote German football magazine Kicker on Monday.
Yet the Germany boss has insisted that the right conclusions have been drawn from the failures of last year.
“(Hummels, Boateng and Mueller) are all World Cup winners and great players, so the decision was always going to be debated,” said Loew on Tuesday.
“But we are facing a new challenge. As I have said before, we need to be quicker, more dynamic and more ambitious.”
– New guard –
Loew has given three young players their first international call-up.
Hertha Berlin defender Niklas Stark, 23, Werder Bremen midfielder Maximilian Eggestein and RB Leipzig full-back Lukas Klostermann, both 22, join the squad, which now contains just two survivors from the World-Cup-winning class of 2014 in Manuel Neuer and Toni Kroos.
“We need to give the young players the feeling that they have our complete and total trust,” said Loew.
Loew has confirmed that Neuer remains his first-choice goalkeeper, but said that Barcelona stopper Marc-Andre ter Stegen would get a chance to prove himself in the coming months.
He also called upon younger players such as Niklas Suele, 23, Leon Goretzka and Joshua Kimmich, both 24, to step up into leadership roles.
“Some players need to take the next step,” he said on Friday. “Goretzka and Kimmich are guys with clear ideas, ambition and opinions.”
“Suele has to take on responsibility, we expect more from him now,” said Loew. “He needs to organise and direct proceedings at the back.”
As the direct heir to rejected defensive duo Hummels and Boateng, Suele will be under particular scrutiny against Serbia.
– Klinsmann criticism –
Many have questioned Loew’s decision to get rid of two such experienced defenders, including his predecessor and former colleague Jurgen Klinsmann, who coached Germany to third at the 2006 World Cup with Loew as his assistant.
“My personal hope is that the door remains open for Hummels, Boateng and Mueller,” Klinsmann told AFP subsidiary SID this week.
“They are top players, and it’s important to have them at your disposal if you need them.”
“It obviously increases the pressure on the team a bit when you make a decision like that.”
Yet Loew said on Tuesday that he would not let the pressure get to him.
“I have been doing this job for 14 years, so I know how to deal with pressure and criticism,” he said.