Germany looking for fresh start after disastrous World Cup

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              Joachim Loew, head coach of the men's German national soccer team, addresses the media during a press conference in Munich Germany, Sept. 5, 2018. Germany will face the team of France for a UEFA Nations Cup match im Munich on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018. (Sven Hoppe/dpa via AP)
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MUNICH (AP) — Expect a complete transformation despite the same personnel when Germany plays World Cup champion France on Thursday.

Germany coach Joachim Loew is still in charge, Reinhardt Grindel is still the head of the country’s soccer association, and there are only three new players in a squad under pressure to produce results, and fast.

“It’s up to the team to light the spark and get excitement going again,” Loew said Wednesday. “Then the fans will get back on our side.”

Casting a shadow over the team that won the 2014 World Cup is Mesut Ozil, who retired from international soccer amid accusations of racism. The Arsenal midfielder felt he was made a scapegoat for Germany’s first-round exit at the World Cup in Russia after being subjected to abuse over his pre-tournament photo with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Ozil was particularly scathing of Grindel for adding fuel to the fire – the federation president acknowledged he handled the affair badly by calling on “answers” from the player – and Loew remains bitter that his efforts to get in touch with Ozil failed.

“When a player tenders his resignation like that, then you don’t bring him back eight to 10 weeks later,” Loew said.

Loew is under tremendous pressure to show his decision to stay is the right one, while Grindel and the federation are under pressure after leaving the decision in his hands. The only post-World Cup managerial change was to put assistant coach Thomas Schneider in charge of the scouting department.

Of the 23-man World Cup squad, Loew has called up 17 for the initial UEFA Nations League game against France in Munich and the friendly against Peru in Sinsheim three days later.

The three new call-ups – Nico Schulz of Hoffenheim, Kai Havertz of Bayer Leverkusen and Thilo Kehrer of Paris Saint-Germain – maintain Loew’s long-established tendency to introduce new players after major tournaments.

The 33-year-old Mario Gomez has retired, while Sami Khedira, Sebastian Rudy, Kevin Trapp and the injured Marvin Plattenhardt were all dropped – albeit with good chances of forcing their way back into the squad.

The likes of 2014 champions Toni Kroos, Manuel Neuer, Mats Hummels and Thomas Mueller remain the cornerstones of the team, despite their inability to lead Germany into the knockout round in Russia after losses to Mexico and South Korea.

“You’re wrong if you think the only way up is with young players,” said Loew, who wants a reaction from his established players. “I expect them to get the cart going again.”

Manchester City winger Leroy Sane has been recalled and will be motivated to show his World Cup omission was a mistake.

Loew, assistant to Jurgen Klinsmann for the 2006 World Cup before he took the top position, indicated there would be some tactical changes against France but not a major change in the team’s philosophy.

“That would be complete nonsense,” said Loew, who highlighted defensive work as a priority. “We have to regain the conviction of defending our own goal come hell or high water.”