Four years after lifting the World Cup in Rio, Germany have touched down in Russia as they look to repeat the trick. But with their opening game just five days away, not everything is going entirely to plan.It was all smiles, statments and selfies as Germany’s players and coaching staff touched down in Moscow early on Tuesday evening to begin the defense of the trophy they won in Brazil.
The 23-man squad and support staff checked in to their base hotel in Vatutinki, on the outskirts of Moscow, ahead of their opener against Mexico in the Russian capital before they head south to Sochi for Sweden and then eastwards to face South Korea in Kazan.
Among the selfie-posers on Germany’s flight was Ilkay Gündogan. The midfielder has been at the center of something of a media storm in recent days after he was booed during Germany’s friendly win over Saudi Arabia, following his decision to pose for a picture with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan along with German teammate Mesut Özil.
German tabloid Bild reported that the pair recently attended a “confidential” meeting with German chancellor Angela Merkel and Germany team manager Oliver Bierhoff said their actions may impact on selection.
“Jogi [Low] does not make any populist decisions just to satisfy someone, he rather looks at the sporting side of things,” Bierhoff said. “But it could as well be a small aspect [in Löw’s choice of line up].”
Özil is also a major injury doubt for the opener – having played just 76 minutes since early April – with both Marco Reus and Julian Draxler staking a claim for his starting spot. Bierhoff said the Arsenal playmaker had made a naive error of judgement but will remain silent on the matter, unlike Gündogan who has made public statements on the issue.
“That’s his position [to not speak to the press during the World Cup]. I assume that he’ll stick to this,” Bierhoff said of Özil. “Whether it’s right and good for him in this case is another matter. We have seen the consequences and he is experienced.”
Löw, who could become the first coach to lift back-to-back world titles since Vittorio Pozzo in 1934 and 1938 has been more focused on the pitch. He expects his team to be severly tested: “France have improved, Spain have improved, Brazil – and Argentina too.”
Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer also wants to focus on the tournament after winning his own fitness race. “It’s bothering the whole nation” and not just the two players,” he said of the Erdogan picture. “We’re footballers and we want to think about football, essentially the World Cup, which is what matters,”
In a little over a month, Moscow will again be the center of the footballing world’s attention, with the final at the Luzhniki Stadium on July 15. Germany are hoping, and perhaps even expecting, not to have boarded a plane back by then.