After winning the World Cup in 2014, Germany’s recent regression has been as shocking as it has rapid.
A semifinal appearance at Euro 2016 is as good as it’s got for Die Mannschaft since being crowned world champions five years ago, with the team proceeding to be eliminated in the group stages of Russia 2018 and relegated from their Nations League group.
The on-field struggles have been mirrored by divisiveness off the pitch. Last year Germany midfielder Mesut Ozil quit international football, citing criticism from the media and the German football federation president that struck him as racist.
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Fast forward to earlier this month and coach Joachim Löw, who has faced calls for his 13-year tenure to end, made the controversial decision to announce stalwarts Mats Hummels, Thomas Muller and Jerome Boateng would no longer be called up to play for the national team.
With none of the trio over the age of 30, many felt their experience and quality could still be beneficial to an ailing squad.
But their absence has left space in the squad for a new generation of players, three of which scored in Germany’s thrilling Euro 2020 qualifier against the Netherlands Sunday.
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Leroy Sane, who was left out of Germany’s 2018 World Cup squad – a decision Low was widely criticized for – gave his side the lead before Serge Gnabry made it 2-0 before half time.
Some of the defensive and mental frailties which have hampered Germany in recent times reappeared in the second half, as Matthijs de Ligt and Memphis Depay drew Holland level in Amsterdam.
But Hoffenheim star Nico Schulz made it a hat-trick of goals for players not called up in Brazil, rounding off a fine German move to snatch a stoppage time winner.
“To win away in Holland in the first game is very helpful for the belief of a newly-formed team,” Low told reporters after the match. “Also, the highs and lows that they went through today help their experience.
“A victory like today’s helps for the coming weeks and months. However, I know that we have to keep working hard. We knew at halftime that the Netherlands would switch things up and start pressing higher, as they had nothing to lose.
“We started to get flustered and gave the ball away too easily. It’s a process that a young team has to go through. What pleases me is that the team never lost the belief that they could win the game, and in the end we got our reward.”
Victory not only gets Löw’s Euro 2020 qualifying campaign off to a perfect start, but also serves as revenge of sorts after a defeat and a draw against Holland in the Nations League helped relegate Germany from League A without a win.
It was the first time in 23 years that Germany has beaten the Netherlands on Dutch soil, leaving both teams on three points and Northern Ireland at the top of Group C with six points after wins against Belarus and Estonia.