Hoping to be in 7th heaven

Thomas Muller and his team-mates of the German national team warming up during a training session in Stuttgart on Wednesday, as they prepare to travel to Prague for the World Cup qualifier against the Czech Republic today.
Thomas Muller and his team-mates of the German national team warming up during a training session in Stuttgart on Wednesday, as they prepare to travel to Prague for the World Cup qualifier against the Czech Republic today.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

With 6 wins out of 6, Germany are on verge of securing World Cup berth if they beat Czechs

BERLIN • Joachim Low's world champions Germany head to Prague for today's World Cup qualifier against the Czech Republic focused on preserving their 100 per cent record.

The match is Germany's first international of a season which finishes with the World Cup final.

Having won all six qualifiers so far in Group C, victory at Prague's Eden Arena will leave Germany on the verge of confirming their place at Russia 2018 before hosting Norway in Stuttgart on Monday, when they could qualify if results elsewhere go their way.

Winger Serge Gnabry is out of both games with an ankle injury, while Juventus midfielder Sami Khedira will miss the match against the Czechs due to a knee injury.

Few German fans will need reminding that the team's last heavy defeat in qualifiers came 10 years ago in Prague when Low's men were humbled 3-0.

However, the Czech Republic were beaten by the same scoreline when the sides met in Hamburg last October with two goals by Thomas Muller.

"We know the Czechs from the first game, they like to start at a high pace, but we dealt with that well, scoring two second-half goals," said Germany's left-back Jonas Hector. "We've won all of our qualifiers so far and we want to keep that record."

Competition for places is fierce with coach Low having called up 17 members of the squad who won the Confederations Cup in July and named just seven World Cup winners.

"We got what we wanted from the Confed Cup, the chance to broaden our group of players and give others a rest," said team manager Oliver Bierhoff. "It was important to give players like Toni Kroos and Sami Khedira a break. They remain a fundamental part of the team and will come back which will give us added strength."

World Cup winners Muller, Kroos, Mats Hummels and Mesut Ozil are likely to return to the starting line-up after missing the Confederations Cup triumph.

Muller will be looking to blow off his frustration at Bayern Munich, having been left on the bench by coach Carlo Ancelotti until the final 17 minutes of Saturday's 2-0 win at Werder Bremen.

"Thomas Muller is one of a kind, he is a big name for us," said Bierhoff. "It can happen that one doesn't play, I just hope that Bayern realise he is a talisman for people who come to the stadium.

"A striker always needs some support, but he is quite relaxed when he is with us."

The world champions can secure their passage to Russia next year by taking three points in Prague as long as group rivals Northern Ireland fail to win both their outings against San Marino and the Czechs.

"For me, titles won in the past don't count, the only thing that counts is the World Cup at the end of this season," Low said.

"We want to win the title, and we will throw everything at this objective. The players know what I expect of them and they know the competition is very strong."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 01, 2017, with the headline 'Hoping to be in 7th heaven'. Print Edition | Subscribe