Can Euro 2020 group of death give Germany new life?
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Joachim Loew’s expression spoke a grim story upon realising Germany’s Euro 2020 group of death pairing alongside France and Portugal. Didier Deschamps cut a wry smile, Fernando Santos looked bemused. The real pressure, however, is on the German World Cup-winning coach.
A poor showing at what then seemed an irrelevant UEFA Nations League has come back to haunt them. Die Mannschaft are taking time reinventing themselves, but this seeding is a wake-up call. Lacklustre behaviour cannot be tolerated anymore. With problems surrounding their cohesion, major doubts have started creeping on Euro 2020 winning chances.
With their European rivals soaring, mighty Germany are the underdogs in Group F. But that is one tag they thrive under. With the others hogging the spotlight, Die Mannschaft aim to hunt them down working under the radar. Underestimating them has cost many in the past. But the road ahead is a treacherous one.
Loew keeps on having trouble sorting out his defence. Shoving out experienced players like Mats Hummels and relying on younger candidates hasn’t born any reward. Niklas Sule and Matthias Ginter’s maturity gives them an edge. But Freiburg’s robust young gun Robin Knoch, Union Berlin’s gritty Kevin Schlotterbeck are making their cases for selection. Sven Bender’s reemergence grants another composed option.
The next international break being in March doesn’t help Die Mannschaft. But Loew must analyse his players’ domestic performances in an around the Bundesliga to figure out his ideal squad. For a side never shying from promoting under-the-radar players, there’s won’t be hesitation in trying something different with youngsters.
Getting his defence sorted with the most secure options is the need of the hour. But he’s filled with headaches selecting his attackers. Toni Kroos is their midfield general, so he’s a bang-on regular. So is the robust Joshua Kimmich, whose versatility is unmatched. Ilkay Gundogan, Nadiem Amiri and Suat Serdar remain viable options for the third midfielder.
Serdar's excellence with Schalke this season (5 goals) makes him an x-factor for Germany. Leon Goretzka’s lethal bite in the middle is another asset. Fortunately, their attacking combination is much more straight-forward. Serge Gnabry is having the time of his life. With eight goals in seven Euro 2020 qualifiers, he amped up Germany's attacking swagger.
Timo Werner’s shooting boots haven’t been caught in any cobwebs. Netting in strikes consistently for club and country, he’s indispensable for both. But the supporting role to these two in-form men is open. Marco Reus jumps into mind when it comes to bringing flair and maturity to the side. But Kai Havertz’s excellent club-run cannot be disparaged. Neither can Julian Draxler’s evolution under Thomas Tuchel’s PSG be ignored...
Of course, the options are varied for Germany, but time isn’t on their side to experiment with different combinations. Loew must stick to the one definite, winning one to survive the upcoming onslaught. A balance between youngsters and mature heads with prior experience should bring a constructive rhythm to the side.
Unlike their rivals in Group F, Die Mannschaft are undergoing through a bit of a transitional period. But it’s time they snap out from their limbo to start playing like titans once again. Last year, the Germans extended their manager’s contract till the 2022 FIFA World Cup. But if guaranteed signs of improvement aren’t visible at the Euros, doubt could start creeping in.
Indeed, group stage embarrassment would make the higher-ups rethink their plans. Sitting 15th in the FIFA Rankings ladder, there’s still a long way in getting back to the pinnacle. If the reputation as the worlds best is to be reinstated, they must find back their compact nature to start playing effective brand football again.
Unless Loew figures out ways to bring Germany’s vintage ruthlessness back, more problems will arise. France and Portugal, for one, won’t hesitate adding to their misery next year.