Since taking over as Germany coach from Jurgen Klinsmann in
August last year, Joachim Low boasts an impressive record of 12
victories, one draw and just one defeat, with 44 goals scored and
only eight conceded. Guided by the man fondly known to all and
sundry as Jogi, the team featuring Michael Ballack, Miroslav Klose
and Co. has continued to thrill its supporters with a fresh brand
of attractive attacking football, generating an overwhelmingly
positive momentum at all levels of the German Football Association
In UEFA EURO 2008 qualifying, Germany hold a two-point lead over the Czech Republic with a game in hand at the top of Group D, and require just a single point from their visit to Ireland to book a berth at the European Championships in Switzerland and Austria next year. Speaking exclusively to FIFA.com, Low assessed Germany's current standing in the international game, set out his goals for the future, and looked ahead to the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
FIFA.com: In the light of your successful campaign at the 2006 FIFA World Cup™ on home soil, and Germany's dominance of their UEFA EURO 2008 qualifying group, where do you believe your team stands in international terms?
Joachim Low: We're enjoying a good run at the moment. We improved at the Confederations Cup in 2005 and then again at 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany, as the new methods we introduced began to bear fruit. However, although things are going well at the moment, I'm sticking to my opinion that we're not in the world elite just yet. Our results have certainly earned us a lot of respect in Europe, but our goal is to emulate Argentina or Brazil and bring on a new crop of exceptionally talented youngsters every year, and gradually draft them into the national set-up. This is the main area where we have to continue our painstaking work, as we seek to establish ourselves at the top of the world game.
What are your targets in the years running up to the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa?
Our primary goal is to improve the individual quality of our players. The team always has to look to itself for inspiration and progress. Every individual improvement makes the team stronger and more stable as a whole. We're working specially hard on tactics at the moment. In competitive terms, our priorities for the next twelve months are qualifying for the European Championships and then the tournament itself. But obviously we're already thinking ahead to the period after EURO 2008. Over the last few months, we've blooded a number of youngsters at senior level, and we need to continue this positive trend. Optimising our youth development programmes, expanding our pool of young talent and increasing the pressure on the established players are our aims.
Which of the up-and-coming youngsters do you think have the best prospects of breaking into the senior squad and featuring at the 2010 FIFA World Cup?
We've successfully brought in a number of players from the U-21s over the past two years. There are a few highly promising youngsters in German football, although we'll have to wait and see how they develop. Take Toni Kroos, who made an outstanding contribution at the U-17 World Cup. He'll have to make his way up through the levels like all the others. Players who prove their quality at U-20 and U-21 level and play themselves into contention will be given a chance to prove themselves in the senior team.
Who will take responsibility for leadership and form the spine of your team in the next few years?
A hierarchy emerged from the eight weeks we spent together at the World Cup last year. Michael Ballack, Jens Lehmann, Torsten Frings, Miroslav Klose, Bernd Schneider and Christoph Metzelder are all leaders, good communicators, consummate professionals and role models for many young players. But there are strong personalities among the younger generation too, who are already growing into leadership positions. Per Mertesacker, Philipp Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger shoulder a great deal of responsibility both on and off the field.
How do you realistically rate your chances at the European Championships next year and the FIFA World Cup in South Africa three years from now?
Our immediate goal is to emerge with credit from the tournament in Austria and Switzerland. We're working meticulously on a number of details, where we've identified scope for improvement. Our goal for the UEFA EURO 2008 is to play attractive, high-tempo football combined with maximum efficiency. Obviously, we're aiming to win the trophy, because we approach every match with the aim of winning. But we're aware we're not favourites for the European title. There are plenty of contenders for the trophy. The 2010 World Cup in South Africa already features in our plans, which are based on the junior national teams. We're working on concepts to take us beyond the European Championships, whereby we'll standardise the development of talented youngsters at every level, using academies for example.
Who do you rate among the favourites for the forthcoming major tournaments, first in Austria and Switzerland, and then in South Africa?
My top two for the European championships are Italy and France, followed by Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands and England. Joint hosts Austria and Switzerland could also be there or thereabouts. Turing to the World Cup in South Africa, Argentina and Brazil will definitely feature, and Mexico have done a huge amount of catching up. They play very athletic and high-paced football. The Africans could take a significant step forward, swept along by the enthusiasm on the continent. A number of African footballers, Didier Drogba at Chelsea to name one, play for leading European teams and maintain unbelievably high standards. Provided their teams are settled and well-organised, the Africans are dangerous. We've just seen that at the U-17 World Cup in Korea [where Nigeria won the trophy - Ed.]. We've been expecting fireworks from the likes of Ghana, Cameroon and Nigeria for a while. Cote d'Ivoire and the host nation could hit the headlines too.
A final question on the women's national team, coached by your counterpart Silvia Neid. How far do you think Germany can go in China?
Germany have been among the world's leading nations in women's football for many years. All of us here believe the women's team can win the World Cup. The way they've started the tournament has convinced me they can win the World Cup in China. The women's game has steadily become more interesting and gained in quality. In terms of technique and athleticism the women have come on a huge amount in recent years, so spectator and media interest will continue to increase in the future.