Thursday, December 1 2022

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FILE – Germany’s Jamal Musiala, left, challenges for the ball with England’s Declan Rice during the UEFA Nations League football match between England and Germany at Wembley Stadium in London, England, on Monday, Sept. 26, 2022. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant, File)

PA

After a disastrous World Cup four years ago as defending champions, Germany travel to Qatar with a new coach at a major tournament for the first time since 2008.

Few know what to expect from four-time champions, and Hansi Flick’s record since taking over as coach from Joachim Löw in 2021 offers little optimism.

Germany have won just one of their last seven games – a flattering 5-2 victory over a weakened Italy – while many of the team’s problems were highlighted by a loss to Hungary at home and a 3-3 draw in England.

Against Hungary, the Germans had plenty of ball possession but struggled to create good chances against a fierce defence. And against England, the side crumbled after taking a two-goal lead and were ultimately grateful to Kai Havertz for saving the draw with an 87th-minute equaliser.

In Group E of the World Cup, Germany will face Spain, Japan and Costa Rica. All three can be encouraged by noting that the Germans have conceded in each of their last seven games under flick.

Germany will face Oman in a warm-up match on November 16, but the match in Muscat is mainly aimed at acclimating the players to the Arabian Peninsula ahead of the tournament in Qatar.

FLICK RESTART

Flick enjoyed a trophy-laden spell at Bayern Munich and was believed to usher in a new era for Germany following the disappointing end to Löw’s reign at last year’s European Championship. Löw’s 16-year tenure ended with a 2-0 loss to England in the second round of the pandemic-delayed Euro 2020 tournament.

Some have argued that it should have ended earlier. Löw’s high point was leading Germany to the World Cup title in Brazil in 2014, but that was followed by the low point four years later when the defending champions were knocked out in the group stage after losing to South Korea at the tournament in Russia.

Although Flick started with eight wins, including in World Cup qualifying, they came up against the likes of Armenia, Lichtenstein, North Macedonia and Iceland – teams that Germany should have beaten.

So far, there’s been no indication that Flick has improved the squad he inherited in any way. Löw had already scrapped his planned squad reshuffle after the last World Cup. He recalled Thomas Müller and Mats Hummels for Euro 2020.

Müller remains a key player for Flick, but Real Madrid midfielder Toni Kroos has retired, forcing the initiative from Bayern duo Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka, with İlkay Gündoğan another option.

NECESSARY OBJECTIVES

Germany are struggling in attack, where Timo Werner’s unsuccessful spell at Chelsea appears to have had a lasting effect even after his spell at Leipzig. Werner, 26, has been urged to ‘shoot more’ by Leipzig coach Marco Rose.

Flick will have to find similar means of persuasion for a striker who goes too often without scoring for Germany.

The shortage of German strikers is such that calls are being made to bring Werder Bremen striker Niclas Füllkrug into the Qatar squad. Füllkrug, 29, was joint-top scorer in the Bundesliga with eight goals in 11 appearances, having scored 19 goals in the second tier last season. Füllkrug also combines well with his Bremen teammates, suggesting he could adapt to the national team quickly.

One bright spot for Germany in recent games has been the form of 19-year-old Bayern striker Jamal Musiala, who has quickly become one of the most exciting prospects in European football. Musiala, who could also have played for England, brings an element of unpredictability to the German game.

CRITICISM OF QATAR

The German team’s rise to prominence has come amid a steady stream of criticism against the tournament over alleged human rights abuses in Qatar. Some also worry about the reception of gay fans in the country, where male homosexuality is illegal.

The German football federation sought to address the concerns by hosting a human rights congress in September, when Qatar’s ambassador to Germany complained the issues were distracting from the tournament.

Kimmich said in the last round of international matches that it was now too late to complain.

“It is difficult to address certain things after the award (of the tournament) in terms of requirements, for example human rights, working conditions or the impact on the climate. I think everyone knew all of this before the World Cup was awarded,” Kimmich said. “I think we’re just 12 years too late.”

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AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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