Germany has secured qualification for Euro 2020, but coach Joachim Low is running out of time to mould his fledgling team into title contenders before next June’s finals.
Despite dominating possession in Moenchengladbach on Saturday, Low’s young team struggled against Belarus before two Toni Kroos goals sealed a 4-0 win which confirmed their Euro 2020 qualification.
As magazine Kicker pointed out, the victory highlighted the team was a work in progress.
By Low’s pre-match admission, some of the players are still developing, with the Euro finals just seven months away.
The Germans and Dutch have now qualified from Group C but Tuesday’s final game against Northern Ireland in Frankfurt is far from meaningless for Low.
A victory will put Germany, who won the last of their three European titles in 1996, in the pot of eight group winners when the draw for the finals is made in Bucharest on 30 November.
“Now we have a chance to win this group, it’s our goal to win on Tuesday and end up top,” said Low.
“I think I’ll make one or two changes, one or two players who didn’t play (against Belarus) will get a chance.”
Work to be done
A deft back-heeled flick into the Belarus net by centre-back Matthias Ginter, a Leon Goretzka strike into the bottom corner and two goals by Toni Kroos sealed Saturday’s win.
However, captain and goalkeeper Manuel Neuer twice came to the rescue, parrying an Igor Stasevich shot, then producing a fine save to deny the Belarus striker’s late penalty attempt.
“That was one of four games until the squad for the European Championships is announced, so it was important that we showed the character that we need, and want to see, at next year’s tournament,” was Low’s verdict.
Low knows there’s still a lot to work to be done if Germany is to challenge for the European title at the finals from June 12 to July 12.
“In some phases, we allowed one or two chances too many,” he admitted.
After one of his best displays for Germany, Kroos echoed Low’s views that Germany remain outsiders for winning the European championships.
The Germans’ finishing often let them down at Borussia Park.
Top teams, such as Belgium, world champions France, England, Spain or the Netherlands, all currently ranked above them, would have not allowed Germany 31 shots on goal.
At the back, Ginter was outstanding, but fellow defenders Nico Schulz and Robin Koch looked unsure on occasion against a side ranked 86 places below the Germans.
Koch clumsily gave away the second-half penalty on Pavel Nekhaychik before Neuer spared blushes by saving Stasevich’s spot-kick.
After Tuesday’s home game, the Germans have just two matches in March – against as yet unconfirmed opponents – before Low must name his squad for the Euro 2020 finals, which start in Rome on June 12.
“This is very little time in this all too sluggish rejuvenation process,” moaned Kicker.
The debacle at last year’s World Cup, when Germany finished last in their group, badly tarnished Low’s golden reputation in Germany, that peaked in winning the 2014 World Cup.
Food for thought
Many fans remain disgruntled by last summer’s woeful performances in Russia, reflected in disappointing ticket sales in both Moenchengladbach and Frankfurt, where Germany face Northern Ireland on Tuesday.
More than 10,000 seats remained vacant on Saturday.
Low is already hamstrung in his efforts to play his first-choice team by injuries to key players.
Burly Bayern Munich defender Niklas Suele and fleet-footed Manchester City winger Leroy Sane are not expected to return from knee injuries until well into 2020.
“The constant personnel problems make it extremely difficult to find a team and form a hierarchy,” added Kicker.
“Other nations, such as the French, English and Dutch, are far ahead of Low and his staff in this respect.”