Germany might be the defending World Cup champions, but they will be up against a stubborn Sweden team and a stirring set of Swedish supporters in Sochi on Saturday. A win is a must for Joachim Löw and his side.As Joachim Löw and Mario Gomez sat down to talk to the German press, a patch of yellow was forming on the Sochi coastline just a few hundred meters away. Singing songs and building a makeshift maypole out of plastic and watering cans, Sweden fans gathered to celebrate Midsummer, one of the country’s most important festivals. With seven thousand Sweden fans expected in the Fisht Stadium tomorrow night though, it’s clear supporting this team is also part of the celebration.
The same can’t be said for Germany’s fans, who have been hard to hear so far in this tournament. A stand full of white kits flew flags at the start of the Mexico game, but they were soon drowned out by their North American underdogs. Everything about and around this Germany team needs to be better on Saturday – or their title defense could be over before it even really got started.
“We don’t need to make any fundamental changes just because of one bad game. There’s no need for us to have doubts,” Joachim Löw told reporters at the press conference. As convincing as Löw’s words might sound, Germany have plenty of reason to doubt. They were surprised by Mexico, and even the admission of that is in itself somewhat remarkable. They have brought their poor pre-tournament form to the World Cup and to beat Sweden they will have to do something they haven’t done in a long time: unlock a deep-lying team.
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The absence of Mats Hummels, who appears to be out of the game with a neck injury, is less of a reason for Germany to doubt themselves than any of the aforementioned reasons though. As important as Hummels is, the excellent Niklas Süle is hardly a poor replacement. The 22-year-old has transitioned into international football with noticeable ease and is likely Hummels’ long-term successor. Germany will not be weaker against Sweden because of Hummels’ absence.
A familiar face likely to lead the line
They may well be stronger thanks to one man’s presence though. Mario Gomez spoke to the press the day before the game, but both he and Löw were cute enough to keep the striker’s likely inclusion from slipping out.
“It could be a message that I’m sat here, but it doesn’t have to be,” Gomez said.
It is quite remarkable that after all the development this side has been through, that the 32-year-old Stuttgart striker remains a viable solution for Löw’s team. With much of the attack lacking in the opening game and Germany more likely to need a physical nuisance rather than a pacey runner in attack, Gomez is the logical choice.
Marco Reus is likely to start as well, but for who remains a mystery. Thomas Müller could well make way after a disappointing showing, but the heavily-criticized Mesut Özil looks set to stay in the starting team.
“Mesut Özil wasn’t the only player to be criticized,” Low said. “We were all questioned, even the coach, and rightly so. But one thing is clear: everyone knows what I think of Özil. I don’t need to repeat that.”
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Legend has it that in Swedish Midsummer celebrations, young women are supposed to pick seven different types of flower on their way home and then place them under their pillow. At night, their future husbands are supposed to appear to them in a dream. Joachim Löw has to make sure he picks the right 11 players otherwise his dreams on Saturday night will be of a World Cup no longer in Germany’s grasp.