For the first time in 16 years, Germany head into a tournament without Joachim Low and without expectation on their shoulders. After a dismal performance at Euro 2020, this World Cup is a free hit for new boss Hansi Flick – and not just because many fans back home won’t be watching.
The build-up to this tournament has been subdued, with Germany one of the strongest critics of Qatar’s human rights record. German fans have bought significantly fewer tickets than previous World Cups and several bars and pubs up and down the country are refusing to show any matches in protest.
There has even been suggestions that players should be ashamed for taking part in the tournament. Flick, though, is keeping the negativity at bay.
Germany start their World Cup campaign on Wednesday when they face Japan in Group E
For the first time in 16 years, they head into a tournament without former boss Joachim Low
‘I’m focusing on my purpose, I’m here to prepare the team for this tournament as best as I can,’ Flick said ahead of Germany’s opening game with Japan this afternoon.
‘I talked to Jogi Low, we met for lunch, he said “you know what you have to make sure that you don’t get too much information, too much input, stay away from all of that”, and that’s what I’ m trying to do.’
Like England, Germany had wanted to wear the OneLove armband and are reportedly looking to take legal action against FIFA, who had threatened countries with sanctions if they carried out the gesture.
‘The team is shocked something like that was not feasible,’ Fick said. ‘I think it’s a shame that you can no longer stand up for human rights.’
The lack of enthusiasm in Germany around the World Cup perhaps takes the pressure off Flick’s side, who are very much a work-in-progress.
Hansi Flick’s side head into the World Cup without much expectation after a dismal Euro 2020
Captain Manuel Neuer had wanted to wear the OneLove armband and Germany are reportedly looking to take legal action against FIFA, who had threatened countries with sanctions
They are more balanced than the squad that competed at Euro 2020, with a blend of youth and experience. The old guard of Manuel Neuer, Thomas Muller and Ilkay Gundogan remain key around integral players like captain Joshua Kimmich and Serge Gnabry. Jamal Musiala and Kai Havertz provide the flair.
There has been progress under Flick, but his team are by no means the finished article. If anything sums up the Germans’ lack of consistency it is their form from March to September.
A run of four consecutive 1-1 draws was followed by a 5-2 thrashing of European champions Italy before a 1-0 defeat against Hungary. A narrow 1-0 victory over Oman last week did little to convince people Flick’s side are ready to rule the world.
The 57-year-old, though, has experienced the high of winning an international tournament, having been Low’s assistant from 2006-2014. Only Neuer, Muller and Mario Gotze remain from the World Cup-winning squad of eight years ago but Flick believes there are similarities between that team and his current side of him.
There is a lack of enthusiasm back home for the tournament, with German supporters buying significantly fewer tickets than previous World Cups
‘I was part of a team in 2014, [Lukas] Podolsky, [Mats] Hummels, [Philipp] Lahm, [Jerome] Boateng, before the tournament people were saying they don’t have experience, they don’t have the titles yet.
‘I don’t think you can compare these two tournaments but this generation is also really characterized by the fact they’re focused on every single game, every single practice and that they always push their limits.
‘They’re players that try to get better every single time they step on the pitch. I have an extremely positive outlook and attitude in terms of our goal. Of course I know the competition is strong, we’ve seen that with Saudi Arabia, Argentina, we see that everything is possible. But that makes football beautiful and interesting so never underestimate your opponents.’
The Germans, too, should not be underestimated. With the pressure seemingly off, they may just be more dangerous.
‘All great football nations have the goal to take the title,’ Flick said. ‘That’s why we’re all here in Qatar. We’ll try to be the most successful we can be.’