The repercussions for Germany’s shocking 1-0 defeat to Mexico in its World Cup opener have been felt around the soccer world, with newspaper headlines in Germany lambasting both coach Joachim Low and the players. It’s just one match into Germany’s title defense, and already, the World Cup champions find themselves with their backs against the wall ahead of Saturday’s must-win clash with Sweden.
The gloves reportedly came off in a no-holds-barred crisis meeting between the players, Low and general manager Oliver Bierhoff that was held on Tuesday.
Speaking to the press later that day, goalkeeper Manuel Neuer admitted that the words exchanged at the meeting were nothing short of brutally honest.
“We didn’t mince words, because we want to make things better against Sweden,” said the keeper. “We talked a lot. We’re our harshest critics. It was a wake-up call — there has never been such strong words within the team.”
While fingers were pointed at everyone from midfielder Sami Khedira, to striker Timo Werner, the harshest of criticisms it seems, were reserved for Mesut Ozil. According to reports, one of the key demands made by the players at the meeting was that Low bench Ozil for the Sweden game.
The Arsenal playmaker has never been renown for the attention he pays to his defensive duties. But he was particularly exposed against Mexico and his lack of tracking back was directly responsible for El Tri winger Hirving “Chucky” Lozano finding space to cut inside and fire the game’s only goal past Neuer.
Low is already under enormous pressure in general following the shock upset loss to the CONCACAF side. Now the coach, who prior to winning the 2014 World Cup, guided Germany to a second place finish at Euro 2008 and third place at the 2010 World Cup, is being directly pressured by his own players to cut Ozil from the squad.
Its a steep fall from grace for Ozil, who at the last World Cup, created 17 scoring opportunities and had more successful passes in the final third than anyone, including Lionel Messi. But despite his solid production, Ozil has often come under fire at both club and international level for his perceived lack of urgency on the pitch.
Recently, former Germany and Bayern Munich winger Mario Basler, who is now a pundit for German television, claimed that Ozil was overrated and had “the body language of a dead frog.”
German soccer legend Lothar Matthaus was similarly scathing, writing in his newspaper column that “With Ozil on the pitch I often have the feeling that he does not feel comfortable in the German jersey, almost as if he does not want to play. There is no heart, no joy, no passion.”
Matthaus’ comments may be particularly telling as Ozil, who is of Turkish descent, has frequently been subject to speculations about his loyalty to the German jersey, despite playing a key role in lifting Die Mannschaft to a World Cup title in Brazil four years ago.
Whether or not Low will succumb to the pressure regarding Ozil remains to be seen. The coach has long been known as a fan of the player who arguably makes up for his lack of perceived industry with a silky touch or a telling pass. However, Low has come in for no shortage of criticism of his own, particularly for his loyalty to a core group of players that up against a frenetically paced Mexico side, looked slow, old and ponderous.
In addition to the interpersonal differences between the squad, there are also reports of widespread dissatisfaction over Germany’s choice of base camp in Vatutinkai, some 25 miles southwest of central Moscow, which has reportedly been likened to a “boarding school” by the players.
Whatever the solution, Low will be under pressure to find it fast. Germany is already on the ropes, but failing to beat Sweden could leave the defending champion’s World Cup hopes hanging by a thread. Already sitting joint bottom in Group F with South Korea, Germany could be at risk of following the trend that’s seen the last two World Cup winners, Italy and Spain, eliminated in the first round of their title defense.
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