Having held Holland to a 0-0 draw at Windsor Park last Saturday, Northern Ireland are assured of a Euro 2020 qualification play-off spot, and that result also means Germany can now rest on their laurels, having already secured their place at next summer’s tournament.
‘We may as well just go home now,’ joked Kroos at one point during Monday’s press conference, before dutifully insisting that the opportunity to win the group gave his side ‘extra motivation’ against Northern Ireland. He was fooling no one.
Germany qualified for Euros with a game to spare despite starting the year in full crisis mode
In truth, Germany are simply happy to be over the line, whether as group winners or otherwise. Having begun the year in full-blown crisis mode, Low’s side have stumbled through a minefield of injuries, selection scandals and public dressing room spats in 2019, before finally emerging as qualifiers with a game to spare.
‘It was a difficult year,’ admitted Low on Monday, and added that he did not count his team among the title favourites at Euro 2020.
‘Teams like England, Spain and Holland are ahead of us because they have been playing together for three or four years,’ he said.
Germany, by contrast, remain a team in flux, yet to find their feet after the World Cup debacle in 2018 and the squad rejuvenation which followed. After a year of upheaval, they are now almost unrecognisable from the team which won the World Cup in 2014.
Jerome Boateng (left), Mats Hummels (centre) and Thomas Muller (right) were all axed from national side by manager Joachim Low in March following their abysmal World Cup
Low has contended with injuries, selection scandals and public player spats in 2019
The changing of the guard has not been easy. This time last year, after a disastrous Nations League campaign, Low stood accused of showing too much faith in his ageing stars. In March, he overcompensated, boldly dropping Mats Hummels, Jerome Boateng and Thomas Muller from the national team set-up.
The decision marked a sea change, and a divisive one at that. Some hailed a long overdue shift towards the younger generation, while others accused Low of a lack of respect.
Bayern Munich, for whom all three of Low’s victims then played, have still not quite stopped fuming about it.
Thankfully for Low, the young players have, broadly speaking, stepped up. Apart from one tough home defeat by Holland in September, they have made it through the year unbeaten and shown flashes of excellence.
A thrilling new attacking partnership between Serge Gnabry and Leroy Sane had hearts racing at the start of the year, while players such as Leon Goretzka, Niklas Suele and most notably Joshua Kimmich have matured into leadership roles.
Serge Gnabry (left) and Leroy Sane’s partnership had…