Pressure grows on Joachim Low as defensive woes and absent faces haunt Germany

A second 3-3 draw in a week and continued questions about the exiled Hummels and Boateng leaves German manager facing fresh criticism

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Toni Kroos celebrated his 100th cap for Germany on Tuesday evening, a great milestone for an outstanding footballer and a symbolic moment for a nation.

Kroos was born in what used to be East Germany, and as the united country marks 30 years since East rejoined West, he stands out as a rare superstar from what used to be the land behind a very hard border.

His century was greeted with muted ceremony as Germany took Switzerland in the Uefa Nations League behind closed doors. But the game itself produced something Kroos has been unused to through most of his decade as an international: Germany conceded three goals, their fifth, sixth and seventh in the space of a week.

Kroos owned up to some responsibility for one of the Swiss goals, the Real Madrid midfielder giving away the ball carelessly and exposing a fragile back four.

Remo Freuler, with one of the excellent finishes that were a feature of an otherwise untidy night of, took advantage, to put the Swiss 2-0 up with barely a quarter of the game gone.

For Joachim Low, the Germany manager, the good news was that his team came back from behind.

The Chelsea pair – Timo Werner and Kai Havertz – scored fine virtuoso goals to bring the scores level, but no sooner was Low sighing with relief than Germany were undone again, a repeated failure to clear the ball inviting Mario Gavranovic to score his second.

Serge Gnabry quickly equalised, to earn Germany a point that, with Spain losing to Ukraine on the same night gives them a chance still to win Group A4 of the Nations League.

As for the principal target, which Low on Tuesday set as reaching at least the last four of next summer’s European Championship, there is homework to do.

Germany, who have been drawn in a first-round group with world champions France and holders Portugal, have won only one of their last four matches. France’s Kylian Mbappe and Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal will have rather enjoyed watching the clips of some of Germany’s defending in the last few days.

The 3-3 draw is now becoming their standard: last week, Turkey equalised three times against a Germany who, however Low sets them up, keep springing leaks.

He lined-up a back four against the Swiss; Turkey racked up their goals against a back three, with wing-backs. “It is good for us to learn and improve with two different systems, because we cannot only have one system of playing,” Low said.

Some of Low’s critics, who have become more numerous and more noisy during this international break, believe the current Germany are not solid enough for tinkering, or experimentation.

Lothar Matthaus, who played 150 times for his country and captained the 1990 World-Cup winning West Germany team, told Bild: "The team looks more comfortable with three at the back, but Low wanted to test out something new. That has to stop."


Gallery: Germany training ahead of Switzerland game


Matthaus singled out Lukas Klostermann, the RB Leipzig defender, for “schoolboy” defending, and accused Low of choosing the wrong man for the wrong system in selecting Atalanta’s Robin Gosens at left-back – “he only ever plays as a wing-back for his club”.

He might have added that in the centre of defence against the Swiss was a player who has not been given a single moment of action for his club this season, Chelsea’s Antonio Rudiger.

Matthaus hardly needed to add that there are more active, more experienced and more decorated alternatives available.

Players who won the 2014 World Cup under Low, namely Mats Hummels, 31 and Jerome Boateng, 32, of Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich.

Last year, Low told those totems of his long time in charge of the national team they were no longer required. He said the same to 31-year-old Thomas Muller, who, like Boateng, helped Bayern win the Champions League in August.

Low’s decision – made on the grounds that he wanted to rejuvenate the squad – to discard that trio remains a focus of debate.

As Matthaus points out: “As long as Botaeng, Hummels and Muller are putting in top performances for their clubs, it will be an issue. And when players without match practice are being picked in the national team, he will be confronted with the fact he kicked those three out.”

The German Federation’s loyalty to Low is also coming under renewed scrutiny.

After Germany's defence of their World Cup title ended at the group stage of the 2018 tournament, a historically early exit, the hmanager  kept his position, to the surprise of many.

Since then, in 10 competitive matches against other countries who have qualified for next summer’s Euros, Germany have won just two. That is not the form of a team heading for the semi-finals.