KEIR RADNEDGE in MUNICH —- Nothing could have demonstrated more startlingly the power transfer out on the national team football pitch than the Munich match-up of the 2014 World Cup winners Germany and their 2018 successors France.
Their experiences at the finals in Russia in June and July represented the extremes. Germany, proud but complacent and naïve world champions, crashed out in the first round for the first time since 1938; France, improved perfectly on their quarter-finals exit in Brazil in 2014 by securing their second World Cup.
European federation UEFA and its president Aleksander Ceferin could not have dreamed up a better opening matchup to launch the new and experimental Nations League which is, in effect, generating competitive and financial advantage from the derided friendly match calendar slots.
The focus was Munich is on head coach Joachim Low’s Germany and not only because they were the hosts.
Has he and his coaching staff learned the lessons of Russia, have they transmitted them effectively to mostly the same players and can that be evident immediately or will it take far longer than the imminent challenges from Les Bleus and then Peru next week?
Back out on the pitch for Low, it was all about rebalancing the team’s style, tightening organisation at the back and impressing on attacking players a need to support the defensive effort.
On the eve of the French test he said: “There has been a lot of self-criticism among the players who reflected on their performance and we have been tough on ourselves as coaches and staff to analyse what went wrong and find solutions. We are not naïve, it will not need just one or two games to eradicate the negative results.
“It’s a new start because we had to get back on track so the talks I had with the players were about tactics and other issues and what we should improve and be ready to show a different face and leave the World Cu behind us.
“So we made some adjustments in our training sessions when it comes working on defence. We had a risky way of playing the game and we had problems dealing with the counter attacks from other teams. So we had to adjust to better protect our own goal which means every player has to work defensively as well.
“They all know that in the next couple of games they have to show the necessary will and fighting spirIt out on the pitch.”
Moving forward, for Low, also meant drawing a line under the Mesut Ozil affair.
He said: “Mesut said he was going to step down. He has his thoughts and told us why. I don’t know why we should talk about this again. He was part of our team for a long time and he is not any more. We have to bring in new players and adjust to the departures of those who stepped down.”