The “Deutsche Fußball Bund” (German Football Association - DFB) still has a chance of bagging a title in the summer of 2015.At the European U-19 Championship in Greece that began on 6 July, Germany are even the title holders but the group containing Spain, the Netherlands and Russia poses a big obstacle to overcome. The U-21 side was recently thrashed 5-0 by Portugal in the European Championship semifinal in the Czech Republic. The dream of winning the title again after 2009 has gone unfulfilled but at least the team has qualified for the 2016 Olympic Games. As for the U-17 national team, the World Championship in New Zealand came to an end in as early as the quarterfinals. Mali knocked the youngsters out when winning 4-3 in a penalty shoot-out after the scores had been level 1-1 after extra time. Summer has not been plain sailing for the DFB’s male juniors.
It is also how the national senior coach Joachim Löw assesses the situation. Diplomatically expressing his thoughts in his own way, he said, “I’m satisfied but not totally,” in an interview with the “Die Welt” national newspaper. “Some players will definitely go a long way but we have some positions where, taking a look at the age group teams, we don’t have players with the potential to become world class.” He recently once again made it clear as to which areas in his World Champion team were causing him concern. “We can make no secret of the fact that there is scope for improvement when it comes to the wing backs. At the moment I can’t see a player that is so good that I am forced to pick him.” There’s also a short supply of potential newcomers for the offensive positions. “I sometimes ask myself where’s the next Miro Klose? Where’s a striker that can play down the middle, is quick, is a good header of the ball and at the same time is dangerous in front of goal? We’ve got scope for improvement in a number of areas,” explained Löw.
Kevin Volland’s selection by the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) for the U-21 European Championship’s “Team, of the Tournament” is an indication of the Hoffenheim player’s class. The only German to make the team, the 22-year played as a centre forward for his national side whilst his club coach Markus Gisdol normally used him last season in an attacking position just behind the spearhead. Having already picked him on three occasions, Löw will undoubtedly be trying out Volland once again in the senior team. The national coach also has to quickly find a solution for the wing back positions to ensure his team successfully navigates it way through the “hot autumn” of EURO 2016 qualifying games against Poland, Scotland, Ireland and Georgia. Löw and General Manager Oliver Bierhoff are however absolutely certain they are not going to come unstuck en-route to the European Championship finals (10 June to 10 July 2016). A base in Evian on the shores of Lake Geneva has already been booked. The team management is expecting to, at the very least, come second in Group D. The place which would have previously only sufficed to secure a berth in the play-offs, now guarantees a direct ticket to the European Championships as the tournament has been expanded by eight teams to 24.
On 3 September, the Poles, who head the group, can be knocked off top spot with a win in Frankfurt. The next test comes four days later when they take on Scotland in Scotland in Glasgow. There are also some real doubts as the season following the World Cup triumph was rather bumpy. This was last evidenced in the 2-1 friendly defeat against USA in Cologne on 10 June. In the European Championships qualifying match against Gibraltar in Faro that immediately followed, the team also had their problems in the first half but eventually ran out easy 7-0 winners.
The points that have to be improved have long been analysed: “We have three on our agenda that came to our notice at the World Cup,” said Löw in the interview with “Die Welt”. Weakness No.1: “We have to play our way better out of defence. If things aren’t going well and the opponent attacks us deep in our half, we’ve often kicked the ball wildly up field. But it’s not our game.” Weakness No. 2: “We’re often not quick enough after winning the ball. We have to again start playing balls deep and not only onto the foot of a teammate.” Weakness No. 3: “The third aspect that has to be improved is our game in the last third of the pitch. And by that I don’t only mean converting our goal-scoring opportunities. But it’s naturally a part of it. The last pass is however often not that good. It either ends up two metres too short or two metres too long. Or the player for whom the ball was intended mistimes his run. There has to be more quality in our play.”
Nevertheless Löw is still confident of his players’ abilities. To achieve the big aim of bringing back a fourth European Championships title to Germany, he wants to develop his team in specific areas. “It is still young. I see a lot of potential and that applies to every single player. I’ve always stressed that, independent of big titles, I find a lot of satisfaction in making teams and individuals better.” In the coming season he sees a big task in tuning his players for the major tournament in the neighbouring country for which five million orders for tickets were placed with the space of three weeks. “We want to create a sense of optimism going into the finals in France and generate new stimuli. First of all though we have to qualify for the European Champs, everything else is secondary.”
The optimism is therefore unbroken even though the mindset necessary for top performances was lost after the World Cup win which was something Löw openly admitted. The same topic surfaced after the U-21’s semifinal loss in the Czech Republic. It is said that the build-up had not been perfect. Players like Emre Can (Liverpool) said that they had not been able to play to their full potential. For some reason the women and junior teams were also affected by the problem of below-par performances. Perhaps it was the complacency of them believing they could put on top class displays without having to exert themselves unduly.
The women and juniors also did not fulfil – albeit higher – expectations. At the World Championship in Canada, the DFB women, who have amassed two World Championships and eight European titles, were no match for USA in the semifinal when losing 2-0. And the third place play-off against England was also lost 1-0. The U-17 junior girls were also stopped in their tracks before the final when going down 1-0 to Switzerland – it came after a 4-0 defeat in their opening group game against Spain. Like their male DFB counterparts, the females are also in with a chance of winning a title. The U-19 team will be looking to win their seventh title at the European Championship finals in Israel from 11 to 28 July.