jOne match away from the World Cup in Qatar, Germany face what amounts to a must-win showdown against Spain on Sunday, a team they have not beaten in a competitive match since 1988.
Before Germany were stunned 2-1 by Japan in their opening match, the team faced heavy criticism for reneging on a promise to wear the rainbow “OneLove” armband in support of diversity and human rights.
Their response was forceful – a photo of the team before the Japan game with all eleven players covering their mouths, suggesting they had been silenced by Fifa, who threatened sanctions against anyone wearing the captaincy on the field.
But after Japan scored twice late to beat Hansi Flick’s side, the Germans were attacked by some observers for losing focus on football when they should have been focused on avoiding a second successive group-stage exit at the World Cup.
And Chelsea striker Kai Havertz said on Friday that the players still adhere to their beliefs, but they know the challenge that awaits them, especially in front of the Spain national team, which crushed Costa Rica 7-0 in its opening match.
“Everyone knows our point of view and how we think,” Havertz said in a pre-match press conference.
“Really, our focus is 100 percent on football, nothing else. We just said what we think, our point of view, everyone knows that, and now it’s about playing football.”
With supermarket chain Rewe withdrawing its sponsorship and with TV ratings for Japan’s game the lowest in Germany for a World Cup in more than 30 years, Havertz knew the challenges weren’t just on the field, saying, “I don’t know that everyone is behind us.”
Havertz revealed the team and Flick held a wide-ranging meeting on Thursday, admitting “it is time to tell the truth to ourselves.”
“Everyone left the meeting knowing what was going on,” Havertz said.
“We chatted very well,” midfielder Julian Brandt said, sitting next to Havertz. “We all left the conversation as if we were determined to win the match.”
The importance of the Spain match at the Al Bayt Stadium cannot be underestimated – national team manager and 1996 Euro winner Oliver Bierhoff wondered what another early exit would mean for the future of football in Germany.
Speaking to Germany’s ARD television network on Friday, Bierhoff said losing “our first final” in Qatar would have widespread ramifications for the sport.
“What does this mean for German football? For further development?” Bierhoff asked.
“And if you dig a little deeper: (What does that mean) for the investment we need to make to stay competitive (and) have new players in eight or ten years time?”
Far from being haunted by the ghosts of their early exit in Russia, Havertz said the match could mark a “diversion” for the weak side, saying “we all dreamed of playing these games”.
“We’re in a bad moment right now, but I think that could change very quickly – if we win the game on Sunday.”
Captain Manuel Neuer said on Friday that Sunday’s game was “a great opportunity”, stressing that the team can learn from Russia “we blew it once and now we know how not to”.
Brandt agreed. “People keep talking about us being a ‘bad situation’, and yes, we are.”
Spain came to the stadium on Sunday after winning 7-0, but Sunday’s opportunity is an opportunity to change the atmosphere. – Confederation of African Football