Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Löw optimistic on Khedira's World Cup chances, 26.02.2014

'Look but don’t touch' was the motto German national team coach Joachim Löw followed recently when he came face to face with the World Cup trophy. While he could easily have reached out to handle the 36.8 cm high prize of two jubilant players holding aloft the earth, he was not overly tempted to do so.

It was only a replica after all, and Löw will not settle for anything less than the real thing, especially as Germany have the chance to lift the actual 4.9 kg, 18 carat gold trophy in Rio de Janeiro this summer.

The final will be played in the Maracana Stadium in 140 days and Löw is conscious of the levels of expectation in Germany. The last time the nation’s football fans witnessed one of their countrymen hoisting the World Cup heavenwards was 24 years ago.

Alongside the country’s 80 million would-be national coaches, Löw is determined to quench Germany’s thirst for the biggest prize of them all. Nevertheless, the tactician is wary of promising too much, knowing all too well the unpredictable nature of the game and also that many factors - the team’s footballing ability aside - must come together in order to become world champions.

"Of course, we’ll give everything to win the title", Löw told Sport Bild, who had taken the replica along with them to interview the national coach.

However, the route to winning the World Cup has never seemed more difficult. The distances teams needed to cover at South Africa 2010 were intimidating enough, but they pale in comparison to what awaits in Brazil. This geographical landmass of this year’s tournament hosts is 24 times bigger than Germany and more than seven times larger than South Africa.

If Löw’s charges are to make it to the final in Rio they will have to deal with three different climate zones in the Brazilian winter, ranging from subtropical temperatures to more temperate conditions. Given those circumstances and the logistical and infrastructural challenges that lie ahead, Löw predicts the coming competition will be a "strenuous World Cup" and believes it will "not only require all of our physical strength but all our mental strength too".

The Germany squad will therefore need to be in peak condition in order to cope. It is therefore hardly surprising that a spate of injuries to key players in recent weeks has given Löw cause for concern. Yet the outlook is not entirely bleak and at present no potential squad member has been ruled out, even long-term absentee Holger Badstuber.

"I’m delighted for Holger that he’s started running again at Bayern Munich", Löw said. "The most important thing for him is to be healthy and then I’m sure he’ll find his way back, both at Bayern and with us. A player’s health should always come before playing at a World Cup."

The same applies to Sami Khedira. Some observers predicted that his chances of playing at the World Cup after his cruciate ligament injury against Italy last November were as low as ten per cent. However, Löw strikes an optimistic tone when talking about the midfielder now.

"The ambition he’s shown whenever I’ve spoken to him gives me hope that he’ll make it", Löw said. "On top of that he’s in unbelievably great shape right now. He doesn’t have any pain in his knee and he can put his weight on it no problem."

The was more good news for Löw with the recent return to action of Khedira’s midfield partner Bastian Schweinsteiger, who has also overcome injury. Schweinsteiger made his long-awaited comeback in mid-February against SC Freiburg and was in Bayern’s starting line-up a week later away to Hannover 96, much to Löw’s delight.

"With him I’m confident that he’ll have enough time to get back to his best", the coach said. When in form, Schweinsteiger is a "world class player" according to Löw, who is unequivocal about the midfielder’s place in the Germany squad: "Of course we want to have him with us. Bastian’s got an unbelievably important role in our game and in our team."

Yet Löw does not shy away from the fact that many question marks remain concerning key personnel, especially as midfield is the nerve centre of Germany’s game. Schweinsteiger and Khedira are not guaranteed to be fit in time, while Ilkay Gündogan is yet to return for Borussia Dortmund and clubmate Sven Bender will be out for around ten weeks with a pelvic injury.

"It’s definitely something I’m thinking about", Löw admitted. "If you’re strong in the middle of the park you can dominate your opponent." One possible option would be to push captain Philipp Lahm up from his traditional right-back position into centre midfield, as has happened at Bayern. "I’ll ask players like Philipp Lahm to play where they can be of most use to the team", said Löw. Asked where that might be, the coach responded: "That’s not a decision I need to make just yet, but I’ll decide in the run-up to the World Cup."

The team’s front line has caused Löw considerably fewer headaches now that both Miroslav Klose and Mario Gomez have returned for their clubs in Italy: "On the whole I’m not as worried about our attack. Obviously I hope Miro Klose and Mario Gomez find their form ahead of the World Cup."

Indeed it is Germany’s depth of attacking quality that is the source of Löw’s sanguinity: "We were the highest scoring European team in World Cup qualification and we have players like Mesut Özil, Toni Kroos, Thomas Müller and Mario Götze. Our options in attacking midfield are what set us apart as a team."

With just three months to go until the World Cup kicks off, there is still plenty to ponder for Löw. And while time is running out for some players, there are still enough weeks left for them to prove themselves.

And if everything goes to plan, the tactician will be in the Maracana on 13 July with the hopes of 80 million compatriots on his shoulders, all of them eager for him to lift the World Cup trophy. With a final glance at the replica before him, Löw concludes: "That would be nice, it’d be really nice. But I’ll only touch when I’ve won it."

26 February 2014
Originally on dfb.de. Uploaded here to prevent loss once removed from or moved on original site.

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