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To say Joachim Low is in search of some redemption may seem strange to outsiders.
After reaching the Euro 2008 final and a third-place finish at the 2010 World Cup, Low led Germany to claim football’s biggest prize in 2014 – their first since 1990.
His 15-year reign as head coach comes to an end at the end of this summer’s European Championship, albeit with his reputation having suffered a buffering in recent years and fans demanding his dismissal over the past few seasons.
In need of redemption?
The German national team has reached some negative milestones in recent times.
The group-stage elimination at the 2018 World Cup was the worst result in the nation’s history and sent shockwaves through the domestic football scene, with many calling for the sacking of Low.
He kept his job, promising change and a rebuild of the team.
But a 33-month period following that World Cup embarrassment recently ended in another remarkable event – the 2-1 loss against North Macedonia in March. It was only Germany’s third defeat at home in a World Cup qualifying match and leaves them currently outside the qualifying places for the Qatar finals in 2022.
Former Germany international Bastian Schweinsteiger, part of the triumphant 2014 team, told BBC World Service: “I would say a successful tournament would be if the national team could bring back the trust of the supporters in Germany and in their national team, because there have been some problems in the past.
“The national team lost some attention of the supporters and I think if they could bring back this kind of trust and joy for them, that will be great. But this team is a question mark right now.”
Unsurprisingly, the atmosphere has been quite tense at the training camp in Seefeld, a small tourist resort in the Austrian state of Tyrol, where the team has been preparing for Tuesday’s European Championship opener against France.
Most of the sessions have been conducted behind closed doors as Low tries to avoid any distractions and the camera lenses that follow every move he makes.
Disregarded veterans are back
In 2019, Low began to shape a new team without veterans such as Borussia Dortmund defender Mats Hummels and Bayern Munich attacker Thomas Muller.
Now, two-and-a-half years later, he has brought both of them back for the Euros in a desperate search for leadership and experience on the pitch.
“He had to make a decision after the 2018 World Cup and so he thought it’s a good idea to give young players a real chance in the national team. But the strategy didn’t really work,” added Schweinsteiger.
“Not all the players were using their opportunities so that’s why, after he announced publicly that it will be his last tournament, he doesn’t need to look left and right, he has only one direction.”
The same can be said about his tactics. During the 2018 World Cup, Germany played a possession-based style that did not allow for any quick attacks in the final third. After their early elimination, Low attempted to create a faster-paced style to accommodate his speedy forwards.
However, after a series of poor performances, Low has gone back to the old philosophy with lots of possession and slow and methodical build-up plays.
Team looked disjointed against Denmark
During the training camp, Low has practised a 3-4-3 system, using three defenders, two wing-backs and at least one midfielder to make the build-up safe and avoid early turnovers. The downside of this approach was seen in a friendly against Denmark on Wednesday that ended in a 1-1 draw.
The Danish team did not apply a high press and gave Germany’s defenders lots of space, but they still played too slowly and cautiously. The team also looked disjointed because of a gap between midfield and the three-man attack.
The system worked far better on 7 June in Germany’s 7-1 thrashing of Latvia, but the opponents were so overwhelmed that the value of such a game offered very little as they prepare to face world champions France, European champions Portugal and Hungary in Group F.
Schweinsteiger said: “They can beat France and also Portugal, they can beat those teams, they are strong enough. The question is, do they have the right attitude to the game, the right mentality?”
Time to stand and deliver?
Even though there are 11 Champions League winners among the 26 players, this group does not exude confidence. While most of them get along, there is a certain tension in the air.
Midfielder Joshua Kimmich was seen giving Leroy Sane an earful after the attacker had not shown the necessary defensive commitment in the friendly with Denmark. “Stop whining so much, dude,” he was shouting towards Sane, who has been accused of looking apathetic during games.
Schweinsteiger added: “Let’s say it doesn’t work out for the Euros… Low will still be remembered as a coach who won the World Cup in 2014 and also for the way he did it.”
The age-old belief is that Germany are a “team for tournaments”, given the nation has previously over-delivered at major finals after some dreadful spells.
But times have changed. Die Mannschaft no longer rely on fighting spirit, but footballing skills. Midfield technicians like Toni Kroos, Chelsea’s Kai Havertz and Ilkay Gundogan, of Manchester City, were a rarity in previous periods.
Euro 2020 is seen as Low’s last chance to redeem himself after recent troubled times, but, in a tough group, there are still plenty of anxious German fans.
Kimmich added: “We have let the people down these past few years. We cannot hide all the time and say that we have a lot of quality. Now we must deliver.”