BERLIN • Joachim Low is facing the toughest tests of his 12-year tenure as Germany head coach in the forthcoming Uefa Nations League matches away to the Netherlands and world champions France.
After earning himself some breathing space following a 0-0 draw with Didier Deschamps' France in Munich last month, Low must take points from the Dutch today in Amsterdam, and the French in Paris on Tuesday, to restore his tarnished reputation.
His former captain Michael Ballack turned on him this week, claiming he was "surprised" that Low kept his job in the wake of Germany's World Cup debacle when they crashed out in the group stage.
Jurgen Klinsmann, Germany's head coach with Low as his assistant at the 2006 World Cup, also ramped up the pressure by saying a semi-final berth at the 2020 European Championship is now a "minimum requirement".
"I was surprised, as well as many other people, that he kept his job," Ballack, who made 98 appearances for Germany, told Deutsche Welle.
"For a long time, he worked with the team and sometimes you should say things don't work any more."
In May, Low signed a contract extension with the German Football Association until the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
IT'S TIME TO GO
I was surprised, as well as many other people, that he kept his job. For a long time, he worked with the team and sometimes you should say things don't work any more.
MICHAEL BALLACK, retired Germany star, on coach Joachim Low staying on despite a poor World Cup.
However, Ballack believes the 58-year-old should have been "professional enough" to take responsibility for such a woeful campaign in Russia.
The former Chelsea midfielder added that Low should have blooded younger players rather than rely on senior players.
However, Germany midfielder Toni Kroos backed the coach on Thursday when asked about Ballack's comments.
"Maybe he wanted to take over," the Real Madrid midfielder replied tongue-in-cheek, before insisting that "three games at the World Cup will not change what we've been building for years".
"I think we'll get our act together with Joachim Low and I think he deserves the chance to keep going."
Should Germany lose to the Netherlands and France, Low would surely face calls for his resignation. The draw with France and a 2-1 friendly win over Peru last month, in the first matches since their disastrous World Cup, were viewed as no more than sufficient by the German public.
Netherlands coach Ronald Koeman, meanwhile, said he would field his strongest team today and would not rest players who are participating in the Champions League for Dutch clubs.
The Netherlands have two teams (Ajax and PSV Eindhoven) in the Champions League group phase for the first time since 2010, but the national team are also hoping for an upturn in their fortunes after missing out on the last World Cup and the last European Championship.
"I completely understand the position of the club coaches. (Ajax coach) Erik ten Hag, for example, asked me to watch the load of his players and we will certainly see how everyone fares this week, but I won't be sparing anyone for the game," the Dutch coach said.
Today's match in Amsterdam is the second for both countries in the new Nations League and the Dutch will then play a friendly against neighbours Belgium in Brussels on Tuesday.
The Netherlands lost 2-1 to world champions France last month.
"We will play to get results because these things matter and I've told my players so," Koeman added.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS