As Germany gathered for their upcoming World Cup qualifiers, Joachim Löw stressed that none of his players had punched their ticket for Russia yet. However, he also had encouraging words for a frustrated Thomas Müller.
When coach Joachim Löw met reporters outside of the German national team's hotel on Tuesday, he left no doubt about how serious he would be taking things as Germany prepare for their World Cup qualifiers against the Czech Republic in Prague on Friday and against Norway in Stuttgart on Monday. This, he said, was where the fight for places on his squad for next summer's tournament in Russia would start in earnest.
"I expect that there to be the toughest competition we have ever had," said Löw, who has called up 17 members of the squad that won the Confederations Cup in July and only seven members of the team that won the World Cup in 2014.
"For as long as I have been here, the competition has never been so great," said Löw, who took over the head coaching job from Jürgen Klinsmann in 2006. "Potential or talent or performances up until now are no guarantees of a free ride… Therefore the established players all know: they have to always go to their limits to remain in the team."
Members of the team that won the Confed Cup in Russia last month outnumber the 2014 World Cup winners in the squad
'35 - 40 contenders'
Löw also said he was looking at "35 - 40 players" who had a chance to be named to his 23-man roster for next summer's World Cup.
"The thing I am most concerned about at this point is the mental attitude," he said, stressing that the only players getting on the plane to Russia in 10 months' time, would be those who had proven to him that the were truly committed to the goal of repeating as World Cup champions.
Boateng and Neuer out
Absent from the side for this international break are the injured central defender and his Bayern Munich teammate, the captain and first-choice goalkeeper Manuel Neuer.
"I believe that two weeks without playing will do him good," said Löw, who will use this week's training sessions and the games to look at the competition for the No.2 spot in the goalkeeping pecking order; Bernd Leno, Marc-André ter Stegen, and Kevin Trapp.
Encouragement for a frustrated veteran
At the same time, Löw had encouraging words for the frustrated national team veteran Thomas Müller who was being left fuming on Bayern Munich's bench on the weekend.
"He is an incredibly positive factor in our team, he's a leader, and I know how he always performs when he is with us," Löw said of the player who has scored 37 goals in his 85 matches for Germany since first being called up in 2010.
Still, as Löw made clear on Tuesday, even for a Thomas Müller, there are no guarantees that he will be on that plane bound for Russia next June.