The German national team has assembled in Düsseldorf ahead of friendlies against Spain and Brazil. These will be the last internationals before coach Joachim Löw names his provisional squad for the World Cup in Russia.
Even before the players nominated to his latest Germany squad arrived in Düsseldorf on Tuesday, Joachim Löw warned those on the fringes needed to convince him that they should be on the plane when it leaves for Russia in June.
"Before we name the final World Cup squad, we want to see and feel that the players put our goals above everything else and give everything they've got to achieve them," Löw said after he arrived that the team hotel on Monday. "If we want to be successful in Russia, we will have to have an unconditional hunger for success."
With 26 players, Löw has named a relatively large squad for these two friendlies, meaning that at least three of them won't make it to Russia – and probably more than that, assuming that first-choice goalkeeper Manuel Neuer and the oft-injured Marco Reus regain fitness in time for the World Cup. Also notably absent from the latest squad is Reus' Dortmund teammate Mario Götze.
The fact that just eight players from Germany's 2014 World Cup-winning team are included in the latest squad is a reflection of Löw's policy of gradual renewal based not on a player's history, but his current form and fitness. Seventeen were part of the relatively young team that won last year's Confederations Cup in Russia.
A new masterplan needed
While Löw is focused on finding his best 23 players for the World Cup, team manager Oliver Bierhoff is thinking beyond Germany's goal of defending the title they won in Brazil.
"We need the next masterplan like we last had in 2000," Bierhoff told a small group of reporters on Monday. That was when the German football association (DFB), on the heels of a disastrous European Championship, embarked on a program of reforms starting at youth level, aimed at improving the level of the game throughout the country. The eventual result was the World Cup title four years ago.
Bierhoff conceded that the state of German football was not as "frightful as it was in 2000." At the same time, though, he said it was clear that little things were starting to go wrong.
"We have eased off a little bit, you can see this at the junior level or with the women," he added, just a week after a disappointing performance at the SheBelieves Cup cost women's national team coach, Steffi Jones her job.
What to do when in posession?
Coach Löw has also expressed concern about the longer-term development of the game in Germany. Speaking on television broadcaster Eurosport last Friday, Löw lamented an overall declining level of skills on the ball.
"A key problem is that everybody in the Bundesliga wants to put pressure on the ball. But the question is; what happens when I've got it? That's the most important thing," he said.
Bierhoff said the problems start long before players get anywhere near the Bundesliga.
"A few years ago we had six or seven top talents in any given age group, now it's only two or three."
The solution, he said, should be provided by the DFB's new academy in Frankfurt, which is to open in late 2020 or early 2021. This, Bierhoff said, would form the cornerstone of "Masterplan 2.0, a Silicon Valley, and football's Harvard."
Going for a record
Löw's job though is to focus on the more immediate future. He'll just have a couple of training sessions to get his team ready for Friday's match against Spain, in which Germany are to sport their new bright green away kit designed to be reminiscent of the one worn by the winners of the 1990 World Cup.
Apart from looking to impress the coach over the next two games, Germany's players will be looking to tie the record of 23 games without defeat - a record set by Jupp Derwall's West Germany between October 1978 and December 1980.
pfd/jh (dpa, SID)