After consecutive home defeats in their last two internationals, Germany are determined to recapture their winning form in 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ qualifiers against Liechtenstein and Wales. However, the fans and supporters of the European championship runners-up are still digesting the after-effects of a 2-1 defeat to England in Berlin, and a 1-0 reverse against Norway in Dusseldorf.
It was less the result and more the manner of defeat which has prompted concern among the millions who saw the games live or on TV. Against both England and the Norwegians, Joachim Low’s side looked shaky in defence, uninspired in midfield and desperately short of penetration up front, a distinctly worrying trend and puzzling in the wake of a highly positive 2008.
Speaking at the start of this week, national team manager Oliver Bierhoff was in no mood to pull punches. "The results were bad, and so was the way we played. We aim for exciting and passionate football, so the boos and whistles are completely understandable as a reaction to poor displays," the former international freely acknowledged in an interview with Deutschlandfunk radio.
Bierhoff called for significant improvement in the competitive fixtures against Liechtenstein and Wales, partly to appease the disgruntled fans: "As soon as we start playing decent football again, we’ll have the fans back on our side."
However, Germany’s preparations for the vital qualifying matches have been badly disrupted by injuries. Miroslav Klose of Bayern and Werder Bremen’s Torsten Frings were early withdrawals from the squad, and Low is now also without Hertha Berlin centre-back Arne Friedrich. Keeper Rene Adler of Bayer Leverkusen and midfield schemer Piotr Trochowski of Hamburg are both rated doubtful, although the pair have joined up with the squad in Leipzig, venue for the meeting with Liechtenstein on Saturday 28 March. The Germans travel to face Wales in Cardiff four days later. There must be a high possibility of Low exercising the right to call for reinforcements during the week, as only 19 of the 23 players originally called up to the squad are free of injury.
The absence of seasoned campaigners Frings, Friedrich and Klose could well open the door to a clutch of talented younger players. Serdar Tasci of VfB Stuttgart, a versatile operator equally at home in the holding role and at centre-half, understands the nature of the forthcoming task. "Just like Norway, they’ll set out their stall defensively, and pull nine or ten players back to the edge of their own box. We’re expecting a very similar game, but this time we have to win. There are points at stake. It’s a must-win fixture," the 21-year-old declared in an exclusive conversation with FIFA.com.
Right-back Andreas Beck from surprise package Hoffenheim was one of the few to emerge with credit from the Norway encounter and may well be handed another chance to impress, as the up-and-coming defender has been a model of consistency in the Bundesliga.
What the Germans have markedly lacked of late is a spark of creativity from the midfield area, where neither team captain Michael Ballack nor Bayern star Bastian Schweinsteiger have been anywhere near normal form. The Munich man also feels the Norway test was a good measure of what his team can expect against Liechtenstein and Wales. "In terms of the way they play, it’ll be very similar to Norway. Liechtenstein may not be tough opponents on paper, but it’s never easy until you’ve got the first goal. Whatever, we have to approach these games very differently compared to the Norway match," Schweinsteiger told FIFA.com. "We have to be looking for six points off Liechtenstein and Wales."
Marko Marin of Borussia Monchengladbach presents a highly viable alternative in the event Trochowski is unable to appear. The 20-year-old Marin has already provided ten goals this term and has scored four of his own. Hamburg’s Marcell Jansen is in similarly good form and features in Low’s squad for the first time since August 2008. Jansen could stand in for club mate Trochowski on the left, although Marin would likely provide more ingenuity.
Liechtenstein may not be tough opponents on paper, but it’s never easy until you’ve got the first goal.
Miroslav Klose, absent for both matches after surgery to repair ankle damage, called for a greater willingness to take risks against Liechtenstein. "It’ll be just a tough as it was against Norway. They can play football. I know we went to their place and won, but they play like the Norwegians, so it’s important we’ve learned from what happened against Norway. We need more belief in ourselves, and we need to play a risky pass from time to time. That’s the only way you beat this kind of team," the striker commented to FIFA.com.
Up front, Low is likely to start with Lukas Podolski and Mario Gomez. The resurgent Bayern hitman and the Stuttgart striker, already up to 23 goals for the season to date, should possess the fireower to cause the Liechtenstein defence a few problems. As a potent alternative, Patrick Helmes is maturing impressively and has 17 Bundesliga goals for Bayer Leverkusen this term.
Germany badly need a couple of good results on 28 March and 1 April, not merely to remain on course for South Africa in 2010, but also to still the growing disquiet among their fans.
It’ll be just a tough as it was against Norway. They can play football.