High stakes for 'gambler' Low

From left: Lukas Klostermann, Marco Reus and Ilkay Gundogan are part of a revamped German team bidding to improve on a lacklustre 2018. Germany will host Serbia in a friendly match today before their opening Euro 2020 qualifier against the Netherland
From left: Lukas Klostermann, Marco Reus and Ilkay Gundogan are part of a revamped German team bidding to improve on a lacklustre 2018. Germany will host Serbia in a friendly match today before their opening Euro 2020 qualifier against the Netherlands on Sunday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Germany boss set to put new-look young team to the test as he casts veterans aside

BERLIN • Germany coach Joachim Low is hoping to prove his critics wrong by putting their annus horribilis behind them with a win when his new-look team host Serbia in a friendly in Wolfsburg today.

The German national team suffered their worst run of form last year, with a record six defeats including their failure to progress to the second phase of a World Cup for the first time since 1938.

To add insult to injury, they were relegated from the top tier of the Nations League, leaving Low under immense pressure to show that he remains the best candidate to turn things around.

In an drastic attempt to rebuild the squad, he has ditched stalwarts Mats Hummels, Jerome Boateng and Thomas Muller, all of whom starred for him in Brazil as Germany lifted the 2014 World Cup.

However, his controversial call to give the team "a new face" has been seen as a gamble, with football magazine Kicker writing that Low is "going all-in in a high-stakes game of poker".

Yet he has insisted the right conclusions have been drawn from the failures of last year, claiming he had to axe the Bayern Munich trio as "our game had become quite predictable".

The 59-year-old told reporters: "We have had a think since the World Cup. We need to be quicker, more ambitious and more dynamic. We lost all that at the World Cup."

While there will be an old head in between the posts, after he confirmed Bayern's Manuel Neuer would remain his first-choice goalkeeper despite calls for Marc-Andre ter Stegen of Barcelona to displace him, the spine of the team has been replaced.

There are now just two survivors from the class of 2014 in Neuer and Toni Kroos in his squad, with Low opting to put his faith in another Bayern trio.

Joshua Kimmich, Niklas Sule and Leon Goretzka are seen as future leaders, and the latter believes his teammates "are capable of stepping into the footsteps of the (former) world champions".

Low certainly feels their elevated status in the team can help them "take the next step", saying: "Goretzka and Kimmich are guys with clear ideas, ambition and opinion.

"Sule has to take on responsibility, we expect more from him now. He needs to organise and direct proceedings at the back."

But his predecessor Jurgen Klinsmann has told Agence France-Presse subsidiary SID that his former assistant is getting rid of veteran players too quickly amid fears that German football is in decline, with no representatives in the quarter-finals of the Champions League for the first time in 13 years.

He added: "My personal hope is the door remains open for Hummels, Boateng and Muller.

"They are top players, and it's important to have them at your disposal if you need them. It obviously increases the pressure on the team when you make a decision like that."

The Serbia meeting will serve as a warm-up for Germany's opening Euro 2020 qualifier away to the Netherlands on Sunday, with Low's men seeking revenge after a 3-0 thrashing by the Oranje last October in Amsterdam.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, DPA

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 20, 2019, with the headline 'High stakes for 'gambler' Low'. Print Edition | Subscribe