Three months can make a massive difference

On the evening of 13th July 2014 in Rio de Janeiro, the victorious German team were proudly showing off their recently-acquired World Cup trophy. It was the result of a masterful campaign by the squad and Nationaltrainer Joachim Löw, and for many not just the culmination of years of hard work but just the start. With its core of talented young players, it was seen as the beginning of a new era for not only German but world football.

Time to move one

Less than three months on as the Nationalmannschaft prepare for their second and third round of matches in the Euro 2016 qualifying process, the very face of that victorious team has changed markedly – and with it the collective mood. Retirements and injuries have taken their toll, and as the squad prepares for an important game against Poland no fewer than seven – six of whom had featured in the final – will not be on the plane that lands in Warsaw.

While the retirement of the thirty-six year old Miroslav Klose was not a surprise to anyone, the decision by skipper Philipp Lahm (30) and defender Per Mertesacker (29) to call time on their international careers would be something of a shock. Lahm in particular had come to symbolise the team, and while he would retire right at the top of the game German football knew that it had lost a stalwart. With just one more tournament trophy under his belt Lahm could very easily have joined the likes of Franz Beckenbauer as a long-standing legend, but he subsequently revealed that the decision had long been made.

Simply, both German football and the team have to move on.

Starting from scratch

What was not bargained for was the massive spate of injuries that would tear through the squad in the wake of their triumph in Brazil. Midfield tyro Bastian Schweinsteiger – arguably the hero of final – has been appointed as the new captain, but has not played a game since for either club or country. Cultured defensive midfielder Sami Khedira also ended up on the treatment table. Then there was the injury to Benedikt Höwedes – ever-present during the World Cup – and more recently midfield schemer Mesut Özil, diagnosed with a knee injury that is set to keep him out of action for up to three months.

Rather than build on their World Cup triumph and take it into to the Euro 2016 qualifiers, Jogi Löw has had to almost start again from scratch, taking the small core of those that remain and supplementing then with those from the fringes and a number of completely new faces. Against Poland and then the Republic of Ireland in Gelsenkirchen four days later, it will be up to these players to take up the challenge and prove themselves worthy of wearing the Nationaltrikot that now bears the four World Cup winning stars.

A lot of things have changed over the summer. As well as the very unfamiliar looking squad the management has also undergone a changing of the guard, with Löw’s long-standing assistant Hansi Flick making way for Thomas Schneider. Then there was the departure of unheralded heroes unknown to many fans – among them American fitness coach Shad Forsythe, who had also become part of the furniture after his being appointed by Jürgen Klinsmann in 2004.

The victory in the Maracanã will always be burned into the memory, but it couldn’t be further away now. Even general manager Oliver Bierhoff would concede that the squad was “no longer together”.

Time to bring in some new faces

With youngster Julian Draxler not quite 100% fit and joining the squad late after a bout of flu, the field is now open to some of the fringe, recalled and new faces that might otherwise have never been given the opportunity. Lukas Podolski would play a relatively minor role in the World Cup, but looks set to increase on his 118 international caps. Christoph Kramer, a last-minute inclusion on the plane to Brazil, has the chance to cement and place in the team possibly at the expense of Khedira. There is Shkodran Mustafi, who will hope to redeem himself and reignite his international career after a less than great start, and Borussia Mönchengladbach striker Max Kruse – dropped from the squad in the summer as a result of a number of off-pitch misdemeanours – is also back in the mix.

There are a number of other players previously on the fringe with just a handful of caps: VfB Stuttgart’s Antonio Rüdiger, TSG 1899 Hoffenheim’s Sebastian Rudy, and Borussia Dortmund youngsters Matthias Ginter, and Erik Durm. Then there is new boy Karim Bellarabi, who could well get the chance to transfer his excellent domestic form for Bayer Leverkusen into the international area.

The faces may be different, and it will no doubt be a challenge to create a unit as cohesive as the one that would triumph in Brazil. But the talent is still there, and there is no reason to believe that even without many of the heroes of Rio this German squad cannot go on to claim a fourth European title in Paris in two years’ time.

Three months can make a massive difference

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