by Ryland JAMES
BERLIN: – World Cup winners Germany have suffered something of a hangover since their triumph in Brazil, but coach Joachim Loew is hoping a new-look side can go on to claim more glory at Euro 2016.
After claiming their fourth World Cup in July, retirements and injuries took their toll as Germany struggled for form at the start of their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign in the second half of the year.
A shock first-ever defeat to neighbours Poland in Warsaw followed by a 1-1 draw with Ireland in October leaves Germany third in their qualifying group for the 2016 finals in France.
But the world champions will still start 2015 on top of FIFA’s world rankings.
Germany will tackle six qualifiers next year, including hosting Poland next September followed by away matches to Ireland and Scotland.
With the top two qualifying automatically and third place enough for a play-off, there is margin for error, but Loew is looking for strong performances to qualify for Euro 2016 as group winners.
“It would be wrong to be satisfied with what we have achieved so far,” said Germany’s head coach, who took charge in 2006 and has a contract until after Euro 2016.
“It is important for us now to put some distance between ourselves and our previous success and bring in new ideas.
“We have to introduce new players and set new goals to keep the players motivated.”
– Paris success to follow Rio triumph –
The 54-year-old Loew is clear on what he wants Germany to achieve in 2015, which starts with a friendly against Australia at the end of March.
“I hope that we are able to confirm our (World Cup) success,” Loew said. “That we can characterise an era in which we not only won the (World Cup) title, but we can recapture the feeling (of success).
“And that in 2016 we can win the (European Championship) final in Paris and then focus on defending our title at the 2018 World Cup.”
There are several areas which need Loew’s urgent attention, though, especially the defence, with right-back and captain Philipp Lahm and centre-back Per Mertesacker having retired after the World Cup.
Loew played a three-man defence in November’s 1-0 friendly victory in Spain, with Benedikt Hoewedes, Shkodran Mustafi and Antonio Ruediger keeping European champions Spain at bay.
World Cup-winners Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng are to come back in, but at the other end, that win failed to mask deficiencies in Germany’s ability to turn chances into goals, just as their finishing let them down badly against Poland and Ireland.
Responsibility for improving in that regard will fall upon Thomas Mueller and Maracana hero Mario Goetze, who are poised to spearhead Germany’s attack through to the next World Cup.
Meanwhile, the retirement of Lahm left a leadership void on the pitch, and Bastian Schweinsteiger has yet to appear for Loew’s side since being named as the new captain.
However, the 30-year-old proved his fitness after a knee injury with a stunning free-kick for run-away Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich at Mainz on Friday.
Loew needs his midfield general back in the famous white shirt alongside Real Madrid’s Sami Khedira and Toni Kroos, who scored the winner in the friendly against Spain.
Elsewhere, Loew has unearthed some exciting young talent in Bayer Leverkusen winger Karim Bellarabi and Hoffenheim’s powerful forward Kevin Volland, while Borussia Moechengladbach midfielder Christoph Kramer and Schalke’s Julian Draxler need to make good on the potential they showed as part of the World Cup squad.
Germany will be looking to avenge their shock 2011 defeat to the Socceroos when they host Australia in Kaiserslautern in a friendly on March 23 before a Euro 2016 qualifier away to Georgia.
Then follows a friendly against the USA in June and a reunion with Loew’s predecessor Jurgen Klinsmann, who coached Germany to third at the 2006 World Cup with Loew as his assistant.