Germany's Joachim Loew needs to find a striker
For a successful world title defence, Loew needs to find a natural centre forward
(Thomas Mueller 13, 65, Toni Kroos 49)
CZECH REPUBLIC 0
They showed why they are the world champions when they took the Czech Republic to school in a 3-0 victory in Hamburg on Sunday morning (Sun morning, Singapore time).
Mixing flair and tenacity, Germany cruised to victory, courtesy of two goals by Thomas Mueller and another from Toni Kroos in the Group C World Cup qualifier, easily maintaining pole position in the standings with two wins out of two.
Come Wednesday morning, they are almost certain to make it three out of three, against Northern Ireland in Hanover.
Given the quality of the opposition in the group, the Germans should end the qualifying campaign at the top and take their place in the main draw for Russia 2018, with many already labelling them as favourites to lift a record-equalling fifth world crown.
But that's when the German machine could encounter trouble.
What yesterday's convincing win inadvertently masked was a problem brewing at the tip of the juggernaut.
The country with arguably the most talented national football squad still mourns the international retirement of Miroslav Klose, the last of their proven No. 9s.
And a world title defence will come unstuck if Joachim Loew cannot find a solution in time for Russia in two years' time.
Remarkably, two years after Klose bade goodbye to Die Mannschaft, only Mario Gomez is considered a genuine option in the striker's position.
But the 31-year-old pulled out of the squad last week citing "muscle stiffness".
Even when fit, he had looked a stop-gap measure rather than a striker capable of leading the line for the world champions.
His prolific goal-scoring days are in the past and not even 26 goals in 33 Super Lig appearances for Turkish giants Besiktas last term should convince anyone he's still able to shine on the world stage.
His five starts for Wolfsburg in this season's Bundesliga have yielded no goals.
That he doesn't always feature under Loew despite being the only natural striker tells the story.
Against the Czechs at the Volksparkstadion, Loew went for a false nine, played by Borussia Dortmund's Mario Goetze, who was supported by an attacking midfield trio of Mueller, Mesut Oezil and Julian Draxler.
It worked a treat, with the quartet slicing the opponents open over and over again.
It looked like the best solution in a striker-less world.
But the Czech Republic are a shadow of their former selves and as Germany's own experiences at Euro 2016 proved, the false-nine system has little room for error.
Goetze, a supremely talented attacker but ultimately not a centre forward, began the tournament up front but was dropped from the starting line-up after two games.
Loew's side were eventually knocked out by hosts France in the semi-finals, in a game which Mueller spearheaded the attack after Gomez missed the match because of a torn hamstring.
Mueller, usually a second striker or an attacking midfielder, finished the competition goal-less.
The consensus out of Euro 2016 was that Germany had no real cutting edge.
When the going got tough, they couldn't find the ruthlessness in front of goal.
Loew's hopes of finding his next striker from the available pool in the Bundesliga are also looking bleak.
Sandro Wagner, 28, and Mark Uth, 25, (both from Hoffenheim) and Hamburg's Pierre-Michel Lasogga, 24, are options but they won't be sweeping anyone off their feet.
Among the youngsters, RB Leipzig's 20-year-old Timo Werner and 21-year-old Davie Selke are starting to show some potential.
Crucially, none of them have earned a senior call-up.
Loew didn't even bother to draft in a replacement for Gomez after he withdrew from the latest squad.
The German manager needs a Plan B and he must start to inject new blood.
He has less than two years to unearth the out-and-out striker Germany must field against formidable opposition at the 2018 World Cup Finals.
Otherwise, it would mean Loew hadn't learnt anything from the Euro 2016 campaign.
Loew: Make it three out of three
TUSSLE: Germany’s Mesut Oezil (No. 10) challenging for the ball with the Czech Republic’s Tomas Sivok. PHOTO: AFP Thomas Mueller.
Germany coach Joachim Loew has called for "same again" for their World Cup qualifier against Northern Ireland on Wednesday morning (Singapore time).
The world champions were impressive in their 3-0 win over the Czech Republic in Hamburg, where the scoreline could have been much higher as Julian Draxler, Mario Goetze and Mueller all missed clear chances.
Nonetheless, it was still three points in the bag and Loew wants the same against Northern Ireland in Hanover to stay top of Group C.
"We need the same determination, the same amount of running and the same precision in our passes," said Loew.
Loew expects the Northern Irish to be "even more cautious" than the Czechs. "They (the Czechs) tried to interfere with our game, at least early on, and so we have to put in exactly the same sort of display to be successful (against the Irish)," said Loew. "You could see after an hour that we had run our opponents ragged."
The 56-year-old said he was pleased to see the likes of Mueller and Borussia Dortmund's Mario Goetze, who was playing up front as Mario Gomez was injured, attacking deep in the box.
Loew said he was happy with the constant pressure his side exerted on the Czech goal to combat the visitors' dogged defence.
Mueller has yet to score a goal in the Bundesliga for his club Bayern Munich this season after six German league matches.
But having also netted twice in the 3-0 win over Norway last month, he already has four goals in their two 2018 World Cup qualifiers.
The self-assured 27-year-old, the top scorer at the 2010 World Cup, was full of irony after some suggestions in the German media of a mini crisis given his lack of league goals for Bayern.
"I was in a tragic situation before the game, so I was really glad I could get out of this mess," he said, tongue firmly in cheek, having now scored 36 goals in 80 internationals.
"The football business is like that sometimes," he added having failed to score for Germany at both the Finals of Euro 2016 and 2012.
"I try to let myself be influenced as little as possible by the positive as well as the negative moments and just continue on my way.
"I listen to my coaches and my inner voice, and if a good tip from a journalist is there, I will listen to it too."
The win in Hamburg was an impressive team performance, especially from centre backs Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng, who repeatedly shut down the Czechs' attack and put in a series of superb passes. - AFP.
We could have scored more goals, but all in all it was a very good performance. I’m obviously happy to have scored another two goals.
— Germany’s two-goal hero Thomas Mueller
BY THE NUMBERS
For the first time, Thomas Mueller has scored a brace for Germany for two games in a row.