Germany confident at Confederations Cup thanks to great preparation
SOCHI, Russia -- Joachim Low didn't hesitate when asked whether Germany were planning for Moscow or St. Petersburg after their Confederations Cup semifinal against Mexico in Sochi.
"We are preparing for St. Petersburg," said the Germany coach, as if it would be the strangest thing in the world to even consider the prospect of playing in the third- and fourth-place play-off in the Russian capital on Sunday. There wasn't even the hint of a laugh or smile from Low, either; he just delivered his response in that matter-of-fact way. Germany are here to take care of business in Russia and that means going all the way to St. Petersburg on Sunday and winning the Confederations Cup.
Everything about Die Mannschaft smacks of certainty, belief and self-confidence. It's not arrogance but a strength of character, which is the foundation of their incredible consistency in tournament football. Not since they crashed out of Euro 2004 in the group stage have the Germans failed to progress to at least the semifinals in any major tournament since. This summer, they've achieved that in the Confederations Cup using an experimental squad without the wise old heads of Thomas Muller, Mats Hummels, Manuel Neuer and several others.
"In tournaments, we always come up with the objective to be in the final four," Low said. "It is always the idea. But of course we want to press ahead to the final. The players are really hungry and yearning for it. I am positive about this group."
From a German perspective, Low gambled on the team's consistency by choosing to hand his senior players a rest in Russia in order to avoid the possibility of burnout when it really matters in the World Cup next year. Low's decision has been questioned by some in Germany, but with 23-year-old Julian Draxler captaining the team in Russia and youngsters such as Niklas Sule, Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka impressing in this tournament, his selections have paid off whether they make it to the final or not.
But Low gave an insight into why the Germans are so consistently successful when he revealed that his plans for the Confederations Cup were devised as far back at the autumn of 2014, in the wake of the team's World Cup triumph in Brazil.
"There was a moment in the months after the World Cup that began to devise my plans for 2016, 2017 and 2018," Low said. "I had to consider three tournaments in four years.
"It can be negative to play so many tournaments. After winning the World Cup in 2014, a lot of the players were injured and exhausted. In our first game in the autumn after Brazil, we had eight or nine players who had to be replaced for those reasons.
"It is a major stress for many players to compete in an international tournament, especially if some of them had bumpy seasons with their clubs. With three tournaments in three years, we could be suffering, so I thought we should have younger players for the Confederations Cup.
"Some people think this tournament is not good for us but on the contrary, it enables me to test younger players. You can't replicate the tournament feeling against Denmark in November, for instance. Against Cameroon on Sunday in our final group game, it was win or lose, stay or leave and this experience will help us going forward. So I am happy with the decision. All the players have been very hungry and it has given us greater competition in the whole team going forward because they have shown they are ready."
Low, who expects Germany to face a "strong opponent" against Mexico in Sochi's Fisht Stadium was one of the architects of the German revival post-2004 alongside Jurgen Klinsmann, having pursued an aggressive policy of youth development. The fruits of that policy have also been borne out at the European Under 21 Championship this summer, with the youngsters defeating England on penalties in Poland on Tuesday to book their place in the final against Spain this weekend.
But Low insists Germany cannot allow themselves to become complacent about their production line of talent.
"When it comes to the general development of our team and the young players, I think that Germany can be quite happy," he said.
"The training of our younger players has increased a lot but I also look at other countries. In France, there is a great group of 18- to 20-year-olds and in Italy, also. And what is also impressive is the U-21s in Spain. They swiftly moved to the final in Poland without resistance, so more development is required [by us]."
Typical Germany. The present is bright, but they expect the future to be even brighter.
Mexico stand in their way in Sochi, but in their minds, Germany know they will make it to St. Petersburg.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_