On Friday, UEFA’s smallest member will try to avoid embarrassment against the reigning world champions in the next round of Euro 2016 qualifiers.
Since winning the World Cup, the German national team has been suffering from a hangover. And who can blame them? Not only had they won the most coveted trophy in the world, but on Tuesday in Berlin, 21 members of the winning squad attended the world premiere of Die Mannschaft, the documentary about their triumph in Brazil, reliving the glory under the glitz and lights of cameras.
Bundestrainer Joachim Löw will hope his players can refocus on their game on Friday, but frankly the world champions are approaching one of the biggest mismatches of these Euro 2016 qualifiers. Gibraltar are the newest and the smallest member of UEFA, with a population of less than 30,000 living on 2.6 square miles of rocky island. Their team consists entirely of amateurs: a firefighter in goal, a customs agent in the heart of defense, a police officer in midfield, and a gym teacher leading the line. On Friday in Nürnberg, these men will take on the world champions, who boast no less than four players shortlisted for the Ballon d’Or last month. “They are 10 worlds apart from us,” Gibraltar captain (and customs officer) Roy Chipolina told the press. “But it’s something I’ll be able to tell my grandchildren.”
Still, it’s not been smooth sailing for Germany since the World Cup. After grinding out a win against Scotland, the Germans lost their first qualifying match since October 2007 last month against Poland, 2-0. It was the first time Germany’s eastern neighbors had ever managed to beat them, and sounded the warning bells in Germany that the hangover might be lasting a tad too long. Should Gibraltar somehow make this tie a fair fight, the Germans will definitely start wondering if the honeymoon should come to an end.
One of the real problems facing Jogi Löw is how to replace the three key players who retired after the World Cup: captain Philipp Lahm, record-breaking goalscorer Miroslav Klose, and defender Per Mertesacker. These three, who are all still plying their trade domestically, were fixtures for so long that it is difficult to imagine the German team without them. Certainly in Lahm’s case, no better full-back has emerged on either the club or the national level. Young Erik Durm, his most obvious replacement, has made the starting berth his own at Borussia Dortmund since breaking into the first-team last season, but he still has a long way to go to reach Lahm’s degree of consistency and quality.
In attack, the Gibraltar match will be a good opportunity for young players trying to stake a claim. Gladbach’s Max Kruse and Hoffenheim’s Kevin Volland, who both missed the World Cup, will both hope to make an impression and convince Löw that he likes strikers more than he likes a false nine. Against Poland, Löw preferred to play Thomas Müller up front, supported by three attackers, but against such minnows he might be tempted to experiment with a more traditional striker.
The German squad features 14 of the players who traveled to Brazil, but he will be without attackers Marco Reus and André Schürrle, who pulled out of the squad due to injury and illness, respectively. Bastian Schweinsteiger and Mats Hummels, who both played leading roles in Brazil, are also missing due to injury, as is young star Julian Draxler. Nevertheless, the Germans have vowed to put out a strong team, and Sami Khedira, Lars Bender, and Benedikt Höwedes could all make their return after long spells on the sidelines. 24-year-old left-back Jonas Hector will be hoping for a first-ever cap after a great start to the season with Köln, and VfB Stuttgart defender Antonio Rüdiger could feature despite his team’s position at the bottom of the Bundesliga.
As it stands, Germany are third in Group D with four points—behind both Poland and Ireland, who are each on seven. Gibraltar, on the other hand, are in dead last, with zero points and a -17 goal differential. The Germans will, in all likelihood, make that number even worse. As Gibraltar’s manager Richard Mew put it, “Keeping them to single figures would be great.”
Germany: Neuer—Höwedes, Boateng, Mustafi, Hector—Kramer, Kroos—Bellarabi, Müller, Götze—Kruse
Gibraltar: Robba—Garcia, Santos, Wiseman, Chipolina—Casciaro—Guilling, Perez, Walker, Casciaro—Casciaro
Germany 4-0 Gibraltar