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Wednesday around 10:45 p.m., Joachim Löw will be a hero … or a retired trainer. Against Hungary for its third group match of the Euro in Munich (9:00 p.m.), Germany will qualify if it wins or draws, but risks elimination in the event of defeat.
Three years after the humiliation of going off the road in the first round of the World Cup in Russia, here we are again the Mannschaft in an almost identical scenario: three points after two matches, and a decisive meeting against the presumed weakest team of the groupel
On paper, in front of his home crowd, the team of captain Manuel Neuer is favorite. But it was also, and more widely, for its third match in Russia, before losing 2-0 against … South Korea. “Three years ago, we also won our second game, and we were eliminated,” said Matthias Ginter, the strong center-back.
Difference with the 2018 World Cup: if Germany is beaten but Portugal loses against France, it will be third in Group F. It would then have a chance of being drafted among the four best thirds, according to the results in other groups.
From this Wednesday, each match can therefore be the last for coach Joachim Löw, who will bow out after the Euro, 15 years after taking the reins of the Mannschaft.
Its premature exit or its success this summer will determine the place which it will occupy in the books of history: a great coach, world champion 2014, victim of an “accident” in Russia. Or a man blinded by his success who did not know how to see his decline coming.
The momentum gained against Portugal (4-2) will be invaluable against catchy Hungarians, over-motivated after their 1-1 draw against France, and who need a victory to qualify. Especially since the Mannschaft risks playing without its attack leader Thomas Müller, hit in a knee.
His absence would weigh heavily. Sportingly: faced with a team folded into its 30 meters, its mobility and creativity would be welcome. “The game may be even harder (than against France and Portugal) because the Hungarians defend low with eight or nine players,” warned the coach.
Psychologically: Müller’s charisma as a leader, ousted after the World Cup and then recalled for the Euro, brought to the team a new confidence and a lightness that it had lost for three years.
Earlier this week, training at Herzogenaurach base camp (Adidas headquarters) suddenly seemed less bubbly than usual. Less bursts of voice, less laughter, less discussion … The absence of “Radio Müller” was audible.
“We all hope, the whole country, that it will be restored”, blurted Leon Goretzka, without language. Even if the package of his teammate would undoubtedly offer him the place of holder. “I have played in this position before and I have confidence in myself. But obviously I hope Thomas can play,” he added.
Four other executives have been spared in training this week: Toni Kroos, tired, Ilkay Gündogan, affected in the calf, Robin Gosens, in the adductors, and Mats Hummels, who suffers from the knee. Their participation on Wednesday does not appear to be compromised, however.
The Germans have promised not to be distracted by the “rainbow-gate”, which agitates the media and public opinion. UEFA on Tuesday banned the city of Munich from lighting its stadium for the rainbow-colored match of the LGBT community, to protest against a law deemed discriminatory recently passed in Hungary.
Manuel Neuer, on the other hand, will be well allowed to wear his rainbow captain’s armband, which he has worn since the start of the tournament to display the values of “openness and tolerance”, explained the German federation, because it is not specifically a political message directed against a country or a government.