Low and Germany focus on fine tuning ahead of results
Sometimes, a draw is the best possible result. On Friday night in Dusseldorf, Germany struggled enough in spells against a playfully frightening -- or frighteningly playful -- Spanish side, which administered an el toque masterclass as if it was still 2008.
But Joachim Low's men also fought, re-organised and ultimately played well enough to have beaten Julen Lopetegui's team and the Bundestrainer seemed content that neither result had come to pass.
A draw -- Unentschieden in German literally means "undecided" -- relieved him from the inconvenience of having to explain a defeat or putting a brake on the self-contentedness that would have greeted a win against the most technically-accomplished side in the world.
The beneficial effect of the result, from Low's point of view, was immediately in evidence when, after the game, Jerome Boateng warned that Germany had to up its game "in all areas." While most of Friday's starters can be safe in the knowledge that they'll be in the final squad, if not in the first XI come the World Cup, the need for collective improvement and fine-tuning was clear. "Not everything was bad but there's a lot of work still to do," Boateng said.
As much as Germany's fluid 4-3-3 system offered an opportunity for the forward players to take up a myriad of positions, central midfielders Toni Kroos and Sami Khedira were put under an enormous amount of pressure in front of the back four. Spain found far too much space in midfield and relished in turning the match into a giant rondo passing exercise in the first half hour.
Against opposition of such rarefied quality, Low might be tempted to sacrifice one of his technical players for an extra enforcer in the future. Khedira can no longer be expected to do the job by himself; the Juventus midfielder enjoys his manager's confidence and loyalty but he's no longer one of the untouchables.
Another important learning from the game was Germany's reliance on Mesut Ozil's play-making skills. The hosts' best moments neatly coincided with the Arsenal man taking up deeper positions behind Thomas Muller and the irrepressible Timo Werner, who did enough to bring himself into contention for a leading role in Russia.
Ozil must touch the ball as often as possible to establish Germany's rhythm and dominance and stationing him in line with the most advanced players was counter-productive; he was sorely missed in the build-up and ineffective in a pressing game that looked somewhat half-hearted.
Ozil and Muller, whose precision strike for the equaliser ended Spain's hegemony, have both been sent home ahead of the game vs. Brazil on Tuesday, alongside the injured Emre Can. Low has indicated an intention to play a radically-changed side at the Olympic Stadium that might be mistaken for the reserves.
However, at least two players who will feature against the Selecao can harbour hopes of staking their claim upon a starting berth. Manchester City teammates Ilkay Gundogan and Leroy Sane, second-half substitutes on Friday, will have an opportunity to challenge the places of Khedira and Julian Draxler, respectively.
Sane's omission against Spain had been greeted with a level of dismay among the press corps in Dusseldorf; many felt the 22-year-old warranted first-team status in light of a superlative season with the Premier League champions-elect. Low might agree -- Sane offers more pace and penetration than the elegant but at times over-elaborate Draxler -- but the 58-year-old feels the need to keep the youngster on his toes.
There's a concern in the camp that Sane should continue to keep his head down and work hard; Gundogan was not joking when he said that the winger "sometimes needs a kick up the back-side" during a press conference on Sunday.
Germany's first meeting with Brazil since the historic 7-1 World Cup semifinal in Belo Horizonte will effectively serve as a trial for the players in the second row. It is a chance for Low to gauge the depth and quality of his squad and run the rule over one or two, who could be promoted to the contenders for the opening match in Russia vs. Mexico or, conversely, be left at home.
Due to the nature of this test and its personnel, the game will probably be more disjointed affair and the result even less important. Secretly, Low will be happy if the game ends in another draw. Two-and-a-half months before the holders attempt to defend their trophy, he doesn't care much for grand statements or conclusions, whether positive or negative.
For once, the little things matter much more than the bottom line.
Raphael Honigstein is ESPN FC's German football expert and author of "Bring the Noise: The Jurgen Klopp Story." Follow: @honigstein