Aggressive tackling, fast counter-pressing and deep runs in behind opponents. These are the things that coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg wants to see from her players in the German women’s national team.
It had been working wonderfully: They scored 34 goals and conceded just two as Germany won the first seven matches of their 2023 World Cup qualifiers. The pristine record only told half the story, and the 3-2 defeat to Serbia exposed the other.
Germany have failed to register a win against elite sides like Spain, Canada or England in the current calendar year and the problems they’ve had in developing their game were evident again in Tuesday’s loss.
"We didn’t demonstrate anywhere near enough both defensively and going forward," said captain Alexandra Popp. "Nothing worked for us - it was a day to forget."
Still without a settled squad
With the European Championship in England postponed to the summer of 2022 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Cup qualification campaign has served as preparation for Voss-Tecklenburg and her team.
Unfortunately, the virus has also proved to be a constant disruption for the German women’s team planning, with the squad against shuffled after the win over Portugal.
"It doesn't help us to complain. We’re putting an even greater emphasis on helping the players, who are here to develop their game," the national coach said.
Sydney Lohmann and Lena Lattwein were the latest to pull out at short notice, but that opened the door for Popp (after two long-term injuries) and Dzsenifer Maroszan (after a break due to commitments in the USA) to make their long-awaited returns. Yet even the experienced duo couldn't settle the ship against Serbia.
Understanding the system
The main focus behind the 4-3-3 formation that’s been in place since the painful World Cup quarterfinal exit in France in 2019 is to immediately switch to counter-pressing when the ball is lost.
The recent matches at the Arnold Clark Cup, where Voss-Tecklenburg had to do without 14 players due to COVID-19 infections, highlighted where Germany’s game was lacking: assertiveness off the ball and the production of solutions when under pressure after a turnover.
Voss-Tecklenburg has since talked about the need for the players she did have at her disposal "to understand our principles of play and identify with them," but those weaknesses were once again on display against Serbia.
Instead of winning the ball back quickly, Germany had their lines broken by vertical passes and instead of assurance in possession, individual mistakes proved costly. "That was really bad," admitted Voss-Tecklenburg after the defeat.
"All the factors that would have been important were not there. Now we have to brush ourselves off, work hard, not despair and address the issues."
The DFB team could have punched their ticket for the 2023 World Cup early with a win in Chemnitz. Instead questions remain as to whether they’ve sharpened their skills and built up enough self-confidence to be able to hold their own against elite sides like England, France or Spain when they travel to the Euros in July.
Edited by Chuck Penfold.