The World Champions have two important UEFA EURO 2016 qualifiers in the next week or so: Poland are the opponents in Warsaw on Saturday (20:45 CEST), followed by a meeting with the Republic of Ireland in Gelsenkirchen the following Tuesday (14th October, 20:45 CEST). For this week’s Big Interview on DFB.de, we asked manager Joachim Löw about his expectations of the team. The coach also spoke about the side effects of winning the World Cup and both new and old faces in the national team.
DFB.de: Mr. Löw, you were in London on Saturday and watched Chelsea’s 2-0 win over Arsenal. What did you make of the heavyweight Premier League clash?
Joachim Löw: Chelsea’s performance was really impressive. It was a very intensive game, as you would expect, but Chelsea deserved to win. They are very stable and the players do what manager José Mourinho asks of them very well.
DFB.de: How happy were you with the performances of your players? Did you learn anything new about André Schürrle, Mesut Özil or Lukas Podolski?
Löw: No, and it’s not about that. In general, I always think it’s worthwhile watching our players live. There is no replicating the impressions you can gather when watching first-hand. Also, it gives me a chance to speak with the players and the club managers, which is usually very insightful. With André, you can really tell that the World Cup has benefited him. He was good before, but now he has even more confidence. He had a lot of good moments and applied good pressure. Mesut is on a good path; he’s put in some great displays for Arsenal lately. We know Lukas’ situation, but we’re also fully aware of his quality. It’s not easy for him at the moment, but he will come through it – I’m very confident of that. We know what Lukas has provided the national team with over the last ten years.
DFB.de: You’ve been asked how you become a World Champion plenty of times, but how does it feel to be a World Cup winner?
Löw: Very good, thank you. We experienced some magic moments in Brazil, moments for eternity. We all enjoyed the tournament and the incredible reception back home. We can be proud of what we achieved. But there’s one mistake that we’re not allowed to make.
DFB.de: And what’s that?
Löw: To lie down after that success. The ball keeps on rolling and we still have big goals. We should be having a say in the destination of the EURO 2016 title too.
DFB.de: You had a successful start to qualification with a 2-1 win over Scotland. The second game on Saturday probably presents the biggest challenge: A meeting with Poland in Warsaw.
Löw: Both of the games in October are of great significance for us. If we can get wins against Poland and then Ireland, then we will already have a small cushion. We want to take this chance. However, we’re only at the beginning of a long journey. No one has already qualified after three games. On top of that, I don’t just have a lot of respect for the Polish team, but the first qualifier against Scotland showed us that we have tricky opponents in our group. The same goes for the Irish. They play with a lot of commitment, enthusiasm and passion. We certainly won’t make the mistake of underestimating our opponents. We are the World Champions, but that alone doesn’t win you games by a long shot.
DFB.de: What makes Poland’s game so dangerous?
Löw: It’s usually tight when we face Poland. The games have often helped push us in the right direction; we all remember the 1-0 win in Dortmund at the 2006 World Cup. Just like back then, Poland have a lot of individual quality, vast experience and a distinctive team spirit. Robert Lewandowski is an exceptional footballer; he’s one of the three best strikers in the world for me. He showed that again during Bayern’s game against Hannover on Saturday (two Lewandowski goals in a 4-0 win). Not many players know how to command the ball under pressure like he can. He’s clinical in front of goal and he also has technical ability. He is a complete striker. However, Poland aren’t just about Lewandowski. It wouldn’t be enough to just take him out the game. We have to deal with the whole team, who will also be roared on by their home supporters in Warsaw.
DFB.de: So the meeting with Poland is somewhat a key game. Are your key players in good nick? Do you get the feeling that the strain of the World Cup could still play a role?
Löw: Obviously a major tournament always demands a lot of you, both physically and mentally. Also, we’ve been there right to the end of the recent ones. However, I feel that generally the majority of our players are in good condition now. One or two players had some problems in September, but they’ve come on since then. Manuel Neuer, Jerome Boateng, Thomas Müller and Mario Götze are playing at a very high level. Christoph Kramer is making an impression week after week and the same goes for the players abroad. Toni Kroos is the central figure at Real; he didn’t have any problems slotting in. And like I said, Özil’s form is improving at Arsenal and André Schürrle is looking good.
DFB.de: Mats Hummels was out injured for a while, Bastian Schweinsteiger is still missing and the same goes for Sami Khedira. Benedikt Höwedes will also miss the games against Poland and Ireland due to injury.
Löw: That’s true and I feel for them. But I don’t know if that has anything to do with their exertions during the World Cup. That theory doesn’t hold for those four players in particular that you mentioned. The fact is, all four of them were also injured at some point during last winter or at the start of the year. They are some of the players that have the least amount of games in their legs. We know the strain and we know the interests of the clubs. In the period when the players are with us, we look at each situation individually and we also allow for individual training if we feel it makes sense. It’s about finding the right balance between a heavy strain, training and a game on the one hand, and recovery, individual care and treatment on the other.
Löw: When we have competitive fixtures, so when we’re playing for points in qualifying matches, then the national team takes priority. There cannot be two opinions about the matter. We always want to play with the strongest team available in the qualifiers in particular. But like I said, we always keep an eye on the strain of the players. When it makes sense to give a player a rest, then we will do so, just as we have done in the past. It goes without saying that I also take the players’ and the clubs’ interests into consideration. I often speak to the club managers about that.
DFB.de: Just like in Kevin Großkreutz’s case, a player you haven’t called up this time.
Löw: Yes, I spoke to BVB manager Jürgen Klopp about Kevin. We quickly agreed that it makes more sense to allow him to use the international break to work individually and get back into gear with his club. The national team will benefit when he returns to us.
DFB.de: With Schweinsteiger and Khedira absent, the question of the captain for the two upcoming games arises. Manuel Neuer led the players out for the match against Scotland…
Löw: The captaincy isn’t an issue we are too concerned with within the team – fortunately, we have several players who can take on the responsibility both on and off the pitch. Manuel Neuer is one of them and he will wear the armband against Poland and Ireland. He is a worthy captain of the national team in Bastian’s absence.
DFB.de: Thomas Schneider is involved for the first time. You’ve coordinated a lot with your new assistant over the past weeks. How has the collaboration been so far and what do you expect in the future?
Löw: It wasn’t the case that I had to get to know Thomas first. He was one of my players at VfB Stuttgart after all, and in my opinion he is a fantastic coach who brings in his own new ideas and that will benefit us. We have met several times and have constantly been in contact. I’m confident that we will carry on seamlessly from where we left off with Hansi Flick. Andreas Köpke, Oliver Bierhoff and I are looking forward to working with Thomas on the training pitch and in the dugout.
DFB.de: You have given a player his very first international call-up in the form of Karim Bellarabi, while Max Kruse returns to the setup. What were the key reasons behind those decisions?
Löw: As always, it’s down to sporting reasons. We always said that Max has the ability to increase our potential in attack. We had different plans for the World Cup, but that has nothing to with his fundamental qualities. He’s started the season superbly with Gladbach. He’s consistently played at a high level so he has deserved this opportunity.
DFB.de: And Bellarabi?
Löw: He’s someone we’ve had our eye on for a while. His development has been remarkable. He’s incredibly quick and his acceleration is phenomenal. He has also improved defensively. I like how he works without the ball. I’m convinced that he can be a good option for us. I’m looking forward to welcoming him to the team on Tuesday and meeting him personally.