Germany's second string earn draw vs. Chile that bodes well for World Cup
KAZAN, Russia -- Earlier this month, Joachim Low was forced to defend himself against accusations of "making the heart of football fans bleed" by choosing to tackle Germany's Confederations Cup campaign with an inexperienced squad in Russia, rather than the stars who helped lift the World Cup in Brazil three years ago.
It was Alexey Sorokin, head of Russia's World Cup organising committee, who claimed that Low's decision went against the whole idea of a fan attending a football match -- to watch the stars -- but after seeing his youthful team fight back from a goal down to draw 1-1 with South American champions Chile, the Germany coach will have felt a sense of vindication.
After Sorokin's outspoken comments, Low delivered an unrepentant riposte, citing the old adage that "something has to give" when it comes to the workload forced upon the game's best players.
"Those players who played so many games reach their limit at some point," Low said. "I can understand the hosts in Russia and that they have different expectations, but they will see the stars next summer.
"No matter where we will finish in the Confederations Cup, it just makes sense to go with this squad."
It would be stretching an argument to suggest that Low has taken a gamble by travelling to this tournament without the likes of Manuel Neuer, Thomas Muller, Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels and Toni Kroos. But Germany know what matters most: defending their world title in Russia next summer. Nobody will care, and few will remember, who wins the Confederations Cup by the time Russia 2018 comes around, and Low's squad selection is all about ensuring Die Mannschaft return in 12 months' time with their preparations exactly as he would want them to be.
Nothing is left to chance by Germany. They usually have their training base located and secured well before every other nation and by giving his stars a full summer break, Low is showing once again that Germany succeed because they put the long term first.
"[Picking this squad] might help us as soon as next year, or maybe in three years," Low said last week. "One day the Confederations Cup will become important for those who played in it."
But while the World Cup remains the only show in town for Germany, they have not approached the Confederations Cup dismissively. The players in Low's squad have been earmarked to play a role in Germany's future, perhaps even forming the backbone of the team that will compete at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, but some of them will be back next year having taken their chance sooner than expected. So Germany will have a group of senior players who have been left to put their feet up and soak up the rays on holiday, all at the same time as blooding a younger group that is hungry to earn a chance at claiming a World Cup place.
Chile posed a stern test of the "young" German side's credentials, however. Back-to-back Copa America winners, Chile are now an established powerhouse in South America. The days of living in the shadow of Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay are over and they will be back in Russia next year as arguably their continent's best hope of providing a world champion.
While the Germans were largely inexperienced -- the likes of Marc-Andre Ter Stegen, Shkodran Mustafi, Julian Draxler and Emre Can added top-level knowledge and pedigree -- Chile were at full-strength, with Johnny Herrera once again named in goal ahead of the dropped Manchester City keeper Claudio Bravo. This was the Chile of Alexis Sanchez, Arturo Vidal and Eduardo Vargas, and after conceding in the sixth minute to Sanchez, who became his country's all-time leading scorer in the process, Germany quickly found their feet and fought their way back into the game.
Chile's incessant energy and high-pressing was a challenge for the Germans, but typically, Low's players worked out how to stem the red tide by becoming more physical and destructive, all while keeping their heads at the same time. They found weaknesses down the Chilean flanks and equalised on 41 minutes when Borussia Monchengladbach midfielder Lars Stindl slid in to convert Jonas Hector's cross. It was the kind of finish that Miroslav Klose often produced for the national team, arriving late to poke the ball home and taking Stindl's Confederations Cup tally to two in two games.
Joshua Kimmich also impressed, while Niklas Sule showed promise alongside Mustafi in the heart of the German defence. Chile were the more threatening team, but Germany, despite deploying a virtual second XI, still emerged unbeaten by the best team in South America.
Germany could yet emerge from Russia as Confederations Cup winners, with or without the core of their team. And that says everything about both their strength and their planning.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_