The German national team have come together in Gravenbruch, on the outskirts of Frankfurt, to start preparations for their first international games of the year. On Saturday March 26th, they will face off against Israel in Sinsheim (20:45 CET). Captain Manuel Neuer and director of national teams and academy Oliver Bierhoff spoke to the media in a press conference on Tuesday afternoon ahead of the start of build-up to a World Cup year.
... the excitement of kicking off a World Cup year: We’re all excited to get back underway and play together as a national team. These are the first preparation games on a long road with the World Cup at the end of the year, and it’s important for us that we have successful and positive games and keep going in the way we finished the year. I think we’ve continually improved ourselves and have started life under our new coaching staff well.
... the Nations League games in summer: It’s going to be an important summer for us, definitely. We haven’t always covered ourselves in glory in the Nations League, so we want to do better against some top opposition this time around. They will also be some crucial games for us in the build-up to the World Cup in November and December.
... the goal of winning the World Cup: I always have lifting the trophy as my goal before every tournament and I also know that I probably won’t be able to play in too many more World Cups after this one. Following our early exits in the last two major tournaments in 2018 and last summer, it will be important for us to present ourselves in a completely different light, and for us to have a clear vision of success in our minds. For me, there is only one goal, and that’s the World Cup trophy. We’ve made a bit of a commitment to that.
... the upcoming information evening on the human rights situation in Qatar: I have to be honest; I’m looking forward to it. It is important for us that “professionals” like them come to visit us and let us get an impression of things. I think it will be decisive for us.
... first-time international Anton Stach: I’m delighted for him. I think he feels pretty at-home here already. He’s played with some of the players here in the youth teams before, so things aren’t too alien to him. It’s the first time that he’s been here with the national team and he can show what he can do. He’ll give it his all – you could already see that in training today.
... his own quick return following a knee operation: I invest a lot of time and effort into my recovery and rehabilitation, of course. It’s gone quickly, but I’m still dependent on the nature of my body and of course the medical experts who have helped me return to fitness as quickly as possible. I’m incredible thankful to the people who have looked after me and I’m really happy with how it’s gone.
...getting going ahead of the 2022 World Cup: A World Cup year is always special, but it’s even more so this year for various reasons. Our schedule is already sorted: We’ve got two friendlies coming up, then a testing Nations League campaign in the summer before we end the year with the World Cup finals.
...finding enjoyment in difficult times: It’s not easy. Everything else gets brought into perspective when you see the problems the world is facing right now, like what’s happening in Ukraine. The thoughts of the entire team naturally go out to the people of Ukraine, and we stand in solidarity with them. However, I also think that the national team has a special role. Above everything, we want to make people happy by playing attractive football and convey a sense of enjoyment and hope to people after these times of restriction we have been living in for so long.
...the information evening surrounding the human rights situation in Qatar: We want to discuss this topic at greater length and today marks the start of a year-long project that the team will embark on. Today, they’ll be looking at an overview of human rights from the organisations Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
...aspirations of winning the World Cup: We’ve got top players in our squad and we’ve always said that we should be aiming to win the tournament, even if we’re not favourites going into it. It pleases me to see that the players are also aiming high.
...preparations during an atypical World Cup year: We would like the players to have the World Cup on their mind over the course of the whole year. I’m convinced that if you start thinking about it early enough and build up a good mindset, you’ve got every chance of having a successful tournament in November. We’ll be relaying information to the players throughout the year to allow them to make that extra step.
...the special significance of matches against Israel: We have a particular relationship with Israel – we send our U18 side there every year because we find it important that our younger players understand that relationship. The national team head coach has also chosen to play a friendly against this team for sporting reasons, too, but you can always combine the two. Given everything which is going on in the world right now, remembering significant historical moments is important and a match like this helps to strengthen our relationship and draw attention to other important matters.
Florian Wirtz’s chances of making the World Cup: I’m absolutely convinced that he’ll make it, and for several reasons. Having a World Cup on the horizon can have an effect on the mental side of things, but he’s a light-footed player, and I’m always hopeful that players like him can come back a bit sooner. We’ll give him all the support we can, as we do for the rest of the team, and we’re confident that he’ll make it.