There is a lot at stake in Germany’s clash with Poland on Friday. Currently trailing the Poles in Group D, the Germans know they need a victory to win the group. But coach Joachim Löw says that everything is fine.
Joachim Löw paused several times to exchange words, and even a couple of kisses on the cheeks, with his acquaintances while making his way to podium for the pre-match press conference. It was as if he was trying to demonstrate that his nerves were not jangling ahead of Germany’s biggest game, in their quest to qualify for the 2016 European Championships.
“Of course we’re approaching a heavy autumn, but I don’t think our backs are against the wall,” Löw told the packed tent of reporters. “Neither I nor the team is particularly nervous. We’re glad that the decisive weeks are coming.”
Those statements should be taken with a healthy grain of salt. After a post-World Cup hangover last year, which saw them drop points to Poland and Ireland, Germany will want to demonstrate some superiority on their home turf in Frankfurt.
In the latter half of 2014, Löw’s team went through an acknowledged period of transition following the departures of mainstays like former captain Philipp Lahm. But with the European Championship less than a year away, the time has come for this edition of the German national side to show their title credentials.
Germany is clearly taking this match very seriously. With the exception of Thomas Müller, there was little of the usual joking around at their final, mostly-for-show practice session. By contrast, Poland was all smiles as they ran through their paces an hour later in Frankfurt’s Commerzbank Arena.
Strategically, there’s no great mystery surrounding the two teams’ approaches to Friday’s match.
“Every team in the group has a clear philosophy,” Löw said. “If you look at Poland’s previous matches, you’ll see that with the exception of the Gibraltar match, Poland has had less possession than their opponents in every game – even against Georgia.”
Löw stressed that Germany would have to break down the Polish defensive bulwark in limited space – without exposing themselves to the counterattacks that Poland have launched so successfully in their previous Euro 2016 qualifiers. The Germans will be particularly wary of Polish forward Robert Lewandowski, whose goal-scoring skills have been on more than ample display for Bayern and Dortmund over the past four seasons.
Löw said that Mario Götze would definitely start the match, citing the out-of-favour Bayern forward’s ball-handling abilities against defensively-oriented teams. Götze then took to the podium and talked about the challenge of adjusting emotionally after the World Cup final in which he scored the winning goal.
Löw said that either Sebastian Rudy or 21-year-old Emre Can of Liverpool would get a nod at the back. If Can does start, it would mean a first-eleven appearance in his maiden game for the national team. Not surprisingly, Löw said Germany had the firepower up front to compensate for the absence of Marco Reus, who is out injured. He added that for that reason he had decided against calling up a replacement to take Reus’ place in the roster.
He also downplayed the importance of his starting formation against Poland. “And some point you go through every system there is,” Löw said, saying the key was to maximise the players’ individual skills. “Then it’s easy to integrate them into a variety of systems.”
The proof of that assertion will be in Germany’s ability to get an early goal against the rugged Polish defence. In the first meeting between the two teams in this round of Euro qualifiers, Germany were unable to put Poland under serious pressure and ended up losing 2-0. In Frankfurt, Löw and his charges will want to show that that result was a fluke.