Euro 2024 hosts Germany hit rock bottom after two more damaging defeats

New boss Nagelsmann struggling to turn things around ahead of next summer's major tournament on home soil

Germany manager Julian Nagelsmann issues instructions from the touchline against Austria. Getty Images
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On June 14 next year, at the Allianz Arena in Munich, the hosts of the summer’s major football event will take to the field utterly familiar with their surroundings and with one another.

But they will do so with a profound sense that something is not right. There will be several Bayern Munich men in Germany’s line-up as they open Euro 2024 and an ex-Bayern coach, Julian Nagelsmann, on the touchline. Yet getting them to play like the serial Bundesliga champions seems a very tall order.

Germany’s 2-0 loss in Vienna to Austria on Tuesday night completed a dreadful year. Twelve months ago today they were being ambushed by Japan in their opening game of a World Cup that turned out as deflating as the 2018 tournament, which they went to as holders.

It’s two group stage exits on the trot now for Germany and the backdraft from tumbling out of Qatar 2022 early has been even more damaging than the aftermath of four years earlier. After Russia 2018, Germany stuck with the coach, Jogi Low. Nagelsmann is the third different manager to have taken the helm in the last three months.

To listen to their captain, Ilkay Gundogan, what’s happened over 2023 has taken them to rock bottom. “It couldn’t get worse,” he said of the second loss in three days, following Turkey’s 3-2 win in Berlin. “Maybe that’s the only positive.”

The only way is up, in other words, for a team whose diet of post-World Cup friendlies, having qualified for the Euros automatically as hosts, leaves them with a record that is Germany’s worst return from a calendar year since 1964. Eleven outings designed specifically to gear up the squad for the most important tournament since they hosted the 2006 World Cup have yielded just three victories, the last one after coming from a goal down against the USA.

They have been thrashed by Japan and beaten by Colombia, and more awkwardly, given the calibre of opposition that will confront Germany in the opening phase at a Euros where they will be a top seed, they have lost to Poland, Turkey and Austria and only scraped a draw, thanks to two very late goals, against Ukraine.

Belgium defeated them, too. In the catalogue of poor results, the 2-1 win over France in September looks a freakish anomaly.

If Gundogan, clutching at straws, believes the only way is up, rivals preparing to play Nagelsmann’s fragile Germany will analyse Tuesday night and conclude a reliable way of dismantling the Germans is up and over the top.

Playing direct, long passes on the counter-attack, the Austrians made their neighbours increasingly uncomfortable, the night’s second goal from Christoph Baumgartner a difficult watch for the trailing Mats Hummels, recently recalled to national duty, at 34, to add some nous to the German set-up.

The indignities had piled up by the time Austria doubled their advantage. Marcel Sabitzer, a footballer whom Nagelsmann knows intimately from coinciding with him at RB Leipzig and at Bayern, scored the opener, after teasing his way past Jonathan Tah. Shortly after half-time, Bayern’s Leroy Sane, currently the best German assists provider in the Bundesliga but careless in possession on Tuesday, lost his temper. After squaring up to Austria’s Phillipp Mwene, Sane was sent off.

It spoke to a general frustration. “It’s not that the team don’t know what they need to do or don’t want to,” said Nagelsmann, who was sacked by Bayern last March and brought into the national set-up after his predecessor, Hansi Flick, was removed from the post in September.

“It’s a good group when you look at them, but they are not translating that on to the pitch. They’re not playing with freedom.”

Time is running out. Nagelsmann’s short reign, which began after Rudi Voller took caretaker charge for the surprise triumph against France, runs to four matches and a single victory, and he looks at an ever-growing pile of homework that he must set about without re-engaging on the practice pitch with his players until the next international break in March.

He can only hope the strong club form of the likes of Sane, Borussia Dortmund’s Julian Brandt and Bayer Leverkusen's young star Florian Wirtz continues and persuades them they can be as creative in a Germany jersey.

“We have a lot of hard work ahead of us,” said Nagelsmann. “But we mustn’t become defeatist, or think we can’t get to where we want to be. We have to accept it’s only going to come good with an extremely hard effort.”

Updated: November 22, 2023, 12:51 PM