Germany look deep into internal issues after opening loss

Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer attends a training session in Sochi, Russia, Wednesday, June 20, 2018. Germany will face Sweden on June 23 in the group F for the soccer World Cup. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

SOCHI, Russia (AP) Thomas Mueller heard all the speculation about potential problems within defending champion Germany after its uninspired loss to Mexico to open the World Cup.

Asked Wednesday if there were factions building within the squad, Mueller admitted there were, but the German striker added context, revealing cliques have developed, particularly at mealtime.

”There is a Bayern (Munich) group. A solid Bayern group,” Mueller said. ”And there are several tables where we eat. There is no such thing as one major table with 23 sitting around. Of course the tables of five or six or seven who regularly sit together for lunch and dinner. It’s a natural thing.

”I sometimes change tables because I’m a variable kind of guy, a multipurpose eater.”

All kidding aside, the poking and prodding about the state of German soccer shows how seriously the opening flop against Mexico has been received.

Germany didn’t just lose. The 2014 champions were completely outplayed, and the 1-0 final score masked how many chances Mexico had to make it far more one-sided.

Germany is facing criticism unlike any scrutiny it has seen in recent years. The squad won the title 2014, reached the semis of the 2016 Euros and won the Confederations Cup a year ago with a team comprised almost entirely of younger players. But the loss to Mexico amplified concerns that had been building since Germany’s lackluster results in pre-tournament friendlies.

German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer revealed there have been blunt conversations within the team: ”We’re angry with ourselves.”

Oliver Bierhoff, general manager of the national team, echoed Neuer’s on Wednesday.

”It was absolutely key for us not to just go on with a ready-made agenda and move on to the next item, but that we go deeper and more thorough with the analysis of what is going on,” Bierhoff said. ”The same thing happens when coaches talk to individual players in a one-on-one basis, but I think there was a real need that everybody realized there was a need to discuss the symptoms that were visible on the pitch.

”Not just talk to one player, but include the whole squad. It wasn’t really as explosive as some people make it out to be, but it was an open and honest exchange of views.”

Bierhoff tried to downplay the fever of the internal conversations, but the fact the defending champions needed deep discussions after just one match is alarming. Germany never faced similar concerns four years ago when the squad used two wins and a draw to win its group, then outlasted Algeria and France, routed Brazil, and finally won the title against Argentina.

”I think we took things a bit too lightly after the warmup games,” Mueller said. ”We make no bones about it. We’re self-critical. We need to go back to being prepared to walk the extra mile. That’s it.”

Now there’s no avoiding what lies ahead for Germany.

The squad must get a result on Saturday against Sweden to have a chance of advancing. Even a draw is potentially risky for Germany depending on what happens in the other match between Mexico and South Korea.

”There is absolutely no question about us needing two wins,” Bierhoff said. ”That being said we mustn’t run into an open knife here because goal difference also plays a roll. But let us make step number one before we make step number two.”

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