Germany coach Loew excited for the future once more
HAMBURG – After his enforced pause from the Germany bench with injury, national coach Joachim Loew behaves like he has emerged from a time machine.
While the hair of the 59-year-old slowly appears a little greyer, the Loew which met the media on Thursday in Hamburg was reminiscent of the younger, visionary coach from a decade ago which developed the World Cup winning side of 2014.
Loew, in his 30-minute slot, looked ahead not only to Friday's classic clash Euro 2020 qualifying clash with the Netherlands but to a future which he believes bubbles with excitement and potential once more.
A year on from the disastrous 2018 World Cup exit and what he considers "well done upheaval" in his squad, Loew sees the development of a new generation of players capable of winning titles.
Despite missing a few players due to injury, Loew thinks Germany meet the Dutch "with a spring in our step" and a positive attitude.
"My feeling is the team is on a good path," said Loew, who has had only three training sessions to prepare his squad and is missing Bayern Munich midfielder Leon Goretzka due to a "bit of a bruise" on his thigh.
Loew himself is returning from a sports injury which kept him away from June's wins over Estonia and Belarus and responded with humour to many questions.
"Serge Gnabry will play, Serge Gnabry will always play!" he stated, using the Bayern winger in phase previously saved for Thomas Mueller - now dropped from the squad, along with fellow World Cup winners Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels.
Germany already defeated the Netherlands in Amsterdam in qualifying and repeating that triumph would set up a table topping clash Monday in Belfast against surprise Group C leaders Northern Ireland.
Loew will keep captain Manuel Neuer in goals, build a back three around Niklas Suele and select an attacking trio "with three genuine forwards" to supply pace - and goals.
A cruciate ligament injury to Leroy Sane opens a front line berth which will likely go to RB Leipzig striker Timo Werner, even if Borussia Dortmund's Julian Brandt is also an option to join Marco Reus and Gnabry.
"Timo Werner has a very good run," Loew said of the player who has struck five goals in three matches for the Bundesliga leaders.
Loew is relaxed with the next test against the improving Dutch. It is the fourth meeting of the teams inside a year and the previous games have brought "all highs and lows." The trend is at least positive for Germany, the last was won 3-2 after a 2-2 draw and 3-0 defeat.
In the new boy group of Gnabry, Brandt, Werner, Suele, Havertz and the absent Sane there are memories of the young Neuer, Mueller, Boateng, Hummels, Mesut Oezil, Sami Khedira and Toni Kroos, who came to prominence at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
"The lads are really determined to go on a successful journey with each other," he said. "The team knows that it can achieve something, not just now in the qualification and next year at the Euros but rather beyond."
At the home Euros of 2024, the new generation will "perhaps be at the high point of their careers," Loew predicted. "I compare it with the team of 2010 which suddenly came together."
Back then, Loew was forced into rebuilding due to injuries to then key player Michael Ballack and others. Four years later Neuer, Mueller, Kroos and company lifted the World Cup in Rio.
First, however, Germany must secure qualification to the current Euros. Two more wins this international window, and with results elsewhere going well, could even seal the deal early.
Kroos holds the team for better than that which failed 15 months ago in Russia and the 29-year-old will voluntarily give up his special status from Loew which allowed him to rest out of games.
"I want to be consistently and properly there, and have to be, when we look towards the finals," he said.
Loew has factored in "set backs" for his young team along the way but is confident with the overall direction of travel.
"Everyone is capable of showing their individual quality, but our unity and positional structure is our foundation," he said.
"If we do that, we're good. If not, we're not good."
The latest match against the Netherlands - going through a similar transition - will be revealing.dpa