Call it a World Cup hangover, but the Germans are still feeling a little delicate since their caipirinha-fuelled conquest by the Copacabana. Retirements and injuries have certainly affected ‘Die Mannschaft’ and their performances since the Maracana triumph have been sluggish. A friendly-drubbing at the hands of Argentina was followed up with the nervy win over Scotland, and a shock defeat to Poland. But German football fans don’t necessarily care. They are the world champions. And the country is still basking in the Brazilian glow. The flags remain on cars and outside houses, if a little more ragged now, a bit like Jogi Loew’s squad.
Poster-boy Marco Reus, who missed the World Cup with an injury picked up in the final warm-up game, made his return against the Scots only to hobble off having hurt the same ankle. Only now has he resumed light training with a Borussia Dortmund side in desperate need of his services to save their season. Bayern Munich’s Bastian Schweinsteiger, named captain following the hanging up of Philipp Lahm’s international boots, hasn’t had a chance to try out the armband. Instead goalkeeping giant Manuel Neuer has deputised. There’s no Mesut Ozil, or Sami Khedira, and with the retirement of Miroslav Klose, Germany scarcely have a recognised striker.
If Ireland were going to catch them cold, we probably would have liked to take on the Germans in our opening fixture as Scotland did. Having gone a goal down, Gordon Strachan’s men hit back through Ikechi Anya and were looking to cling on until Thomas Muller again showed his prowess with a real poacher’s score to claim the win. For their part, the Republic are backed by Euro 2016 odds from Betfair at 8/1 to finish as the winner of group D.
Despite Loew’s squad concerns, the Germans don’t foresee any problems qualifying for France. They still boast a wealth of talent Ireland can only dream of.
One such shining light Julian Draxler made one appearance in Brazil in the semi-final trashing of the hosts but he has been one of Schalke’s best performers in a stuttering start to the season that saw Jens Keller sacked and replaced with former Chelsea boss Roberto Di Matteo.
After one recent Bundesliga encounter, Draxler was lucky to stay on the pitch after a number of rash tackles. They do things differently in Germany however. In the post-match interview, the 21-year-old admitted to his interrogator that he would have had no complaints had he seen red, showing an honesty those of us brought up watching the Premier League are probably not used to.
As it turns out, Draxler was sent off three weeks ago against Eintracht Frankfurt having hauled his side level, but part of that comes down to a tenacious attitude and Schalke’s desperation at times this campaign. The youngster is one of the next generation of stars ready to make the breakthrough into the German side though he comes into the Ireland game recovering from the flu.
Ahead of the qualifier with Poland, recent Real Madrid acquisition Toni Kroos described the game as possibly the toughest in the group, relegating Ireland’s status to one of the lower-ranked outfits.
And why would they fear us? A 6-1 thumping dished out at the Aviva Stadium was followed up with a harder-fought 3-0 win in Cologne after the FAI had finally dispensed with Giovanni Trapattoni.
This time there’s yet another change in the Irish dugout. Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane take the Irish to Gelsenkirchen, a return to the scene of Wim Kieft’s bizarre bouncing header that ended our Euro ’88 dream.
The adventure that kick-started Jack Charlton’s Irish footballing revolution cemented Germany’s love affair with the Boys in Green. Who’d have thought we wouldn’t grace the European finals stage for another 24 years. As the campervans carrying the Green Army descended on Poland in June 2012, thousands of Irish fans stopped off in Germany en route, enjoying the hospitality of the locals and sampling the fan fests where they were warmly received.
The now famous rendition of the Fields of Athenry after the Spain game in Gdansk, a spectacle that brought admiration around the world, made the biggest impression perhaps nowhere else than in Germany.
It’s become an abiding story of the tournament that German television commentators stopped speaking for almost ten minutes of the live coverage to allow viewers to fully appreciate what was taking place in the stadium. It prompted customer phone-calls wondering if their equipment was on the blink while Spanish defender Gerard Pique later remarked: “Listening to them singing during the last five minutes of the game…I will remember it for as long as I live.”
In the fall-out from the tournament and following the subsequent rout in Dublin that signalled the beginning of the end of the Trapattoni era, the German papers were full of surprise at the weakness of the Irish team and the schism in the previously renowned support.
“The Irish were so inferior that even their fans no longer sang. And if the Irish supporters don’t sing, there must be something very wrong.”
Of course, the Germans expect to win on Tuesday but they’re preparing for an altogether different Republic performance. Ron Ullrich of cult football magazine 11Freunde remarked before the game in Cologne that German interest in the Irish team had waned with the departure of Trapattoni, the man familiar to them from his eccentric management of Bayern Munich, and described upon his appointment as Republic manager as a ‘new member of the Dubliners’.
Now they are preparing to welcome Messrs O’Neill and Keane. Before he mended his bridges with Ireland, Keane had a pop at those same supporters so admired by the Germans against Spain. With Keane and O’Neill now calling the Irish tune, fans and players appear to singing off the same hymn sheet once again.
The difference in quality between the teams means Ireland taking anything from Schalke 04’s Veltins Arena is unlikely, but there’s a feeling that Jogi Loew’s depleted defence may still be feeling a little groggy and not up for an Irish fight if O’Neill can rouse his charges. A shock result would take a massive bump out of the rocky road from Dublin to France in 2016.