Italy becomes the key game for the German national team. If a victory is achieved, many debates will fall silent after the mixed performances in the Nations League. If he doesn't succeed, the criticism gets louder. The national coach got a foretaste before kick-off.
The tenure of national coach Hansi Flick was relatively relaxed until last Saturday. The 57-year-old could claim to have pushed aside the "dark clouds" of the Joachim Löw era. The football nation had fallen in love with the national team again in a hurry. Or at least rediscovered old feelings that had disappeared somewhere in the Vatutinki forests in the summer of 2018. But Saturday changed a lot. Because from Hungary, the premium product of the DFB takes at least a few cumulus clouds with it. Also because Jonas Hofmann, the best and most accurate German footballer at the moment, wasted a mega chance to win. He decided against the shot and opted for a (disastrous) pass.
And these (still) small cumulus clouds annoy the national coach colossal. He is still waiting for his victory against a top nation in the DFB chief manager's office. He would love to be a little further on the way back to the top of the world. He would like to answer other questions than those to which his predecessor Löw no longer knew the answers. When we meet again against Italy in the Nations League on Tuesday (8:45 p.m. ZDF and in the live ticker on ntv.de), the tiresome topic is back: who should actually score a goal for Germany? Timo Werner? Kai Havertz? Thomas Müller? Luke Nmecha? Or maybe the new Dortmunder Karim Adeyemi?
Adeyemi not for now. While the anticipation of the fast dribbler from RB Salzburg at Borussia is great, Flick is still giving the talent a lot of work these days. "I think Karim still has to develop," said the national coach on Monday in a DFB media round. "At the moment Lukas Nmecha is a bit ahead, he's doing very well in training. Karim has to take the next step, he can do that very well at Dortmund." Alongside Leroy Sané and Werner, Adeyemi is perhaps the biggest loser of the national team's summer course. But the fight for the World Cup ticket is not lost.
Nmecha, good degrees - a word combination that gives hope. Because neither Werner nor Havertz have been able to advertise in the three previous Nations League games that they are dangerous and reliable final players. It is well known that Germany is missing a striker. The fact that the absence of a giant in the penalty area is a damn problem is obviously not (yet) to be admitted. Just as little as possible tactical misunderstandings. Flick accepted uncompromisingly that a Havertz might not know exactly what he had to do.
"I don't see any uncertainty with Kai Havertz," Flick marveled at a corresponding question. "He's very intelligent, knows which rooms he has to go to. I don't think that orientation is missing, but rather the determination, the unconditional will to graduate." There would simply too often be a cross or back pass instead of following up and looking for a conclusion. No unique selling proposition of the Londoner. The whole team lost momentum recently, a pillar of Flick's idea. "Conviction is part of it, as well as freshness. Maybe that's not always available after a long season."
The national coach vehemently rejected the fact that there was a lack of regular staff in the German machine room, i.e. Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka. "I don't have the feeling that Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka are overplayed." For the first time, the 57-year-old had to fend off a hail of questions in a media round, which was no longer just about the lightness of being and questions about the German puzzler Leroy Sané.
So many critical questions to Flick as this Monday in Budapest were rare. And they even reached the World Cup theme. Wouldn't an adapted restraint now do us good? Flick was surprised again, slightly irritated: "If we were in the quarter-finals, we also want to go to the semi-finals. That's how it is in Germany and that's good. You can set goals. In terms of self-image, I don't think the four draws are good, we want to win. We want to evolve with the will to win games and decide them when it counts."
But this requires a basic conviction. The national coach is currently missing that from his players, "especially when we're attacking." If you play offensively, Flick demands that from your footballers, and you have a good remaining defense, you can put your opponent under direct pressure. Then you have the chance to win the ball back early, in moments when the opponent is open and unsorted. "That's how we want to play. Defense and offense have something to do with each other. A basic structure is important, a compact defense, short distances when in possession. And on offense you can make mistakes, but then you have to follow up."
It counts again against Italy, "we want to have all our grains in it," said Flick, repeating his clear announcement that he wanted to win. "I'm feeling four draws..." he broke off his sentence before continuing "...I just don't like it because I want to win." Victories are "always important for a team, they are there to improve your own self-confidence. Elementary may be an exaggeration, but it would be nice if we were rewarded for our effort." Flick emphasizes: "We are very satisfied with the development." Italy will still be a key game for the DFB team. If they win, many debates will fall silent after the mixed performances. If he doesn't succeed, the criticism gets louder. The national coach is therefore trying to convince. The conviction that his team has lacked so far this summer.