SOCHI • World champions Germany head to the Confederations Cup in Russia with coach Joachim Low looking to nurture his next generation of stars after leaving his top names at home.
With a year to go before the World Cup, Low has given a host of key players the summer off and picked seven newcomers in his squad, which has a combined total of just 104 international caps.
Missing the likes of Thomas Muller, Manuel Neuer, Mario Gomez and Jerome Boateng, Germany face Australia in Sochi on Monday, with Chile and Cameroon to follow in Group B.
The tournament kicks off today when hosts Russia take on New Zealand, with Mexico and Portugal also in Group A.
Rather than targeting a place in the St Petersburg final on July 2, Low is thinking 12 months ahead.
"The 2018 World Cup, and winning the title again, that is the vision," said the 57-year-old, who has been Germany's coach since 2006 and steered his country to the 2014 World Cup title.
"A mission on the way is participating at the Confed Cup with the goal that three or four players will be able to put pressure on our established stars, when it comes to 2018. We want to lift players to a new level - achieving that is what matters to me.
"I already know I have 12, 13 World Cup winners with a lot of experience and class, but they need competition for their places."
Low has justified leaving his leading stars behind by arguing the Confederations Cup has little place in an already-congested schedule.
"Some players are getting a rest from me, because I think three tournaments in three years is borderline," he said, referring to Euro 2016, the Confederations Cup and next year's World Cup.
With no Muller or Gomez around, RB Leipzig's Timo Werner, the Bundesliga's top-scoring German forward last season with 21 goals, and Hoffenheim striker Sandro Wagner will have their chance to shine.
Likewise, with no Mesut Ozil nor Toni Kroos around as playmakers, the pressure to run Germany's attack falls on Julian Draxler.
The attacking midfielder has had a good six months with Paris Saint-Germain, but this will be a big test for the 23-year-old.
Without Mats Hummels and Boateng, Arsenal's Shkodran Mustafi and Bayern Munich-bound Niklas Suele could forge a few partnership at centre-back.
For New Zealand's All Whites, the Confederations Cup represents a rare chance for football to emerge from the huge shadow cast by rugby union's All Blacks.
While the rugby side are world champions and the country's best-known global brand, the All Whites are ranked 95th in the world and play in Fifa's weakest confederation, Oceania.
Coach Anthony Hudson, an Englishman, hopes to revive the feel-good factor by making the 2018 tournament, although New Zealand face a tough play-off against South America's fifth-placed side even if they do top the Oceania qualifiers.
His first test will start today against Russia. "We are not going to Russia to take part, we are going there to achieve something significant," Hudson said.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS