Preview: Early ‘final’ for defending champions

Amol Gokhale
Saturday, 23 June 2018

Under pressure Germans find themselves in a must-win situation against Sweden at the Fisht Stadium in Sochi

Sochi: “We are in a situation we are not used to,” said Germany coach Joachim Loew after their shock 1-0 loss to Mexico at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow last Sunday.

It is not the situation the footballing world is used to either. It was the biggest upset of the tournament until Argentina were thumped 3-0 by Croatia on Thursday night.

Now, the defending champions find themselves in a must-win situation when they face Sweden, who edged past Korea Republic 1-0 in their Group F match. For the Germans every game now is like a final as they touched down in Sochi with their points tally still zero.

In the past 80 years, Germany has never exited the competition in the group stage, apart from 1950 edition where they were not allowed to take part.  But a defeat on Saturday would put curtains on the illustrious history of football’s powerhouse. It would also give them an unwanted record of becoming the third successive defending champions to exit the tournament at the group stage. The pressure on the German players is immense, as they have made it to the semi-final of every major tournament since 2006. They find themselves in an unfamiliar position and an early exit could mean a debacle in football-mad Germany. 

Time for change
The public opinion about the team isn’t great back home as people are still fuming over the political scandal involving Mesut Ozil and Ilkay Gunderson and the omission of Leroy Sane. In a laggard show against Mexico, Ozil and Sami Khedira were ineffective and now there are calls being made to drop these two senior players’ from the playing XI to inject more pace into side.

Fans are demaning the inclusion of  Marco Reus and the dropping of Ozil and Khedira from the side for the game against Sweden, who are in the World Cup at the expense of Italy.

It would be interesting to see what changes Loew makes to his side or does he persist with the same side but with a different game plan as Sweden are a tough nut to crack.

The good news for Germany though is that their captain and goalkeeper Manuel Neuer has looked comfortable and commanding in the box after missing out on most of the season due to injury. But that’s all about it.

Apart from that, the team looked sluggish in their opening match and fell victim to counter attacks by Mexico.

It is not the Germany we are used to seeing, the team that won their all 10 games in the qualifying campaign scoring most number of goals. But, it is what it is.

As the German team has been saying themselves, every game is a final now, a bit too early for the liking of the defending champions and the fans. 

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