Low wants good show for fans after poor year

Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk arriving for training with his Dutch teammates at the KNVB Campus in Zeist, Netherlands, ahead of their Nations League match against Germany.
Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk arriving for training with his Dutch teammates at the KNVB Campus in Zeist, Netherlands, ahead of their Nations League match against Germany.PHOTO: REUTERS

BERLIN • What a difference a few months make. Germany went into the World Cup as champions and were among the front runners to lift the trophy, while the Netherlands were languishing in football's wilderness, having failed to make it to Russia.

Yet there had been signs that all was not hunky-dory with the Germans and, after having suffered a record six defeats so far this year, including their earliest exit at a World Cup in 80 years, coach Joachim Low told reporters the team had to "start from scratch".

Die Mannschaft face the Dutch today in their final Nations League group game, having already been relegated and, although Low's men are playing only for pride, he insisted they had to put a smile on the faces of their home supporters.

"We now want to say goodbye (to this year) with a good performance and show the fans that we are on the right track to recovery," he said at his pre-match press conference yesterday.

"In this year, which overall has been very disappointing for us, we want to put on a good show for the fans on Monday in Gelsenkirchen.

"We had a decade of rising to the top and there sometimes can be a year where nothing works.

"Now we have reached a phase where we have to renew things. We need to draw the right conclusions and take the right measures.

"If you think you can be in the top four in the world for over 20 years, then you don't understand football. It is just like life. Sometimes, you have to start lower down. We were the top team for a long time."

But it remains to be seen whether his side can breach the opposition's sound defensive pairing of captain Virgil van Dijk and Matthijs de Ligt without key forward Marco Reus, after Low confirmed his likely absence with a foot injury that also ruled him out of last Thursday's friendly win over Russia.

The Netherlands can top their group if they can secure an away win and back-to-back victories - against world champions France last Friday and Low's side - would surely send out a signal that they are serious contenders in international football again.

The resurgent Dutch look a far cry from the side that suffered through several lean years and missed out on two successive major tournaments.

Much of their improvement has to do with rising Ajax stars de Ligt, 19, and Frenkie de Jong, with Koeman building his side around their burgeoning talents.

De Jong, in particular, has benefited from Ronald Koeman's appointment in February, having won his four caps this year, and the 21-year-old midfielder is certain to pull the strings in the middle of the park against the Germans.

And, on Saturday, Ajax sporting director Marc Overmars conceded that they were likely to leave in the summer with speculation spiking.

"It will be difficult to retain these players who are in the newspapers every day because of the interest of other clubs," he said of the pair, who Spanish champions Barcelona are reportedly in the frame for.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 19, 2018, with the headline 'Low wants good show for fans after poor year'. Print Edition | Subscribe