The preparation in South Tyrol for the 2018 World Cup is over, now it’s time for Russia. On Tuesday, Die Mannschaft fly to Moscow. They will prepare for their opening match against Mexico on Sunday from their accommodation in Vatutinki. In an interview, coach Joachim Löw talked about the expectations of the title defenders, the position of being hunted and their opponents in Group F.
Question: Mr. Löw, how often have you been spoken to about Vittorio Pozzo, who is still the only coach to have won the World Cup twice?
Joachim Löw: Not at all in the last few weeks. He is of course a legend, however.
Question: What would it mean to you to be the first coach in 80 years to achieve such a feat?
Löw: To be crowned world champions again would naturally mean a lot. It would be historic. It means as much to the players as it does to the coach. So we will put all our energy and resources towards achieving it.
Question: You fly to Moscow on Tuesday. What’s the general mood in the camp?
Löw: I’m excited to get going. However, I do feel a sense of humility given the difficulty of the task ahead.
Question: What excites you the most?
Löw: I always love being able to work with the team for an extended period of time. Then I get into my rhythm. It’s the day-to-day work on the pitch which I enjoy. The team do too and they can build a stronger connection than when they’re just together briefly. We can communicate more and work harder. I see a lot of development when we have three or four weeks together. At a tournament, I also relish the matches, the competition, the fifty-fifty situations. The comparisons and contests between the best teams from each continent are thrilling.
Question: You have always emphasised how difficult it is to successfully defend a title. What makes this World Cup so complicated?
Löw: The other teams have improved since 2014. France are better, Spain are better, Brazil and Argentina too. When you’re world champions, Confederations Cup winners and no.1 in the FIFA rankings for three or four years, then you’re being hunted down. Every team will want to topple the title defenders. To win a title, everything has to go well. Other factions also certainly play a role though, given that the teams are so similar in quality. Then you need a bit of luck and to stay injury-free. Little things can also have a huge effect. You need to perform at the highest level, be sharp and fully on the ball in every game from the get-go. Otherwise, when it comes to the knock-out rounds, you’ll be heading home rather sharpish.
Question: How has the team prepared for being hunted down?
Löw: We trained for that in March and at the beginning of the training camp. We coaches have tried to convey what’s waiting for then. We want to train for success in the best way possible. As well as physical and tactical sessions, we have worked on our winning mentality. It’s important that we absorb the pressure and discipline ourselves well. Those are the crucial things to remember.
Question: Toni Kroos said that the team is stronger on the ball than in 2014. Yet, there’s some room for improvement off the ball.
Löw: We have hugely developed our playing style. The same can be said for other teams. If we make as many mistakes as we did against Austria, then we’ll be nothing more than an average team. However, if we get the little things right, we’ll be difficult to play against. In terms of attacking, we’re very strong. But the saying goes that good defences win tournaments. It’s a fundamental principle that we need to internalise.
Question: Have you cultivated the team spirit you were after?
Löw: It’s a process and doesn’t just appear out of thin air. At the beginning of training, a few players were quite insecure and asked themselves whether they should be there. You can’t create a concrete sense of unity with 27 players. But since I named the final squad, every player has known he belongs in the team. It was a liberating moment for many of them. Team spirit takes time and develops during the tournament too. The framework is set, because the team know each other very well and we have a strong spine to lead the group. Our more experienced players are also very performance orientated, but always put the team first. There are no egos, only role models for the younger players.
Question: Your team lacks megastars like Neymar, Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo. Is that an advantage?
Löw: In 2014 it was certainly an advantage. We didn’t have any one superstar. We strived for success as a team. That team mentality can definitely act in your favour.
Question: What do you think of your group with Mexico, Sweden and South Korea?
Löw: All the teams are at a similarly high level. Sweden and South Korea are awkward sides to play against. Mexico have many tactical and technical qualities. They’re a very strong and dangerous opponent and are good on the ball.
Question: You have extended your contract until 2022. Was that a statement?
Löw: The DFB approached me a long time ago. There’s a mutual respect and trust between us. Now we have a younger generation coming through and that gives me personally a motivational boost. In the last four years, we have seen players like Joshua Kimmich, Timo Werner, Leroy Sané, Nikla Süle, Julian Brandt and Leon Goretzka come onto the scene. It’s a hugely exciting task for me.###more###