Football

Lahm could revert to right-back position against France

Germany under pressure to restore skipper to his favourite right-back position against France

QUARTER-FINAL

FRANCE v GERMANY

(Tomorrow, 11.59pm, SingTel mio TV Ch 141 & StarHub TV Ch 223)

Germany are open to the option of moving captain Philipp Lahm to fullback, where he excelled in the last two World Cups, assistant coach Andreas Koepke said this morning (Singapore time).

Responding to debate in Germany, after Joachim Loew's team struggled to beat Algeria 2-1 in extra time in the last 16, Koepke said switching Lahm from midfield - where he has failed to shine - was a possibility.

"There is no doubt that Lahm is a super player as a right fullback," Koepke told reporters at Germany's base camp in a resort in north-eastern Brazil, ahead of tomorrow's quarter-final against France.

"It's not the case that we won't deviate from certain things, if we feel they'll lead to success. We're not sticking stubbornly to our point of view," he added, after many Germans - including Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, who is also the sports minister - have said Lahm is playing out of position.

Loew has started Lahm, 30, as a holding midfielder in Germany's first four matches at the World Cup, but he has been getting mainly negative remarks in German media.

He impressed German fans, the media and a long line of former players only after being switched to right back in an emergency, due to an injury to Shkodran Mustafi late in the match against Algeria.

"As far as the public discussion in Germany goes, we're naturally discussing these things internally as well," said Koepke, who is the goalkeeper coach but spent much of his news conference answering questions about Lahm.

"At the end of the day, we have to do what we are convinced is the right thing to do. We've just got to see what's the best line-up against France."

Moving Lahm, one of the best right backs in the world, to midfield is part of Loew's grand strategy to start four tall centre backs with strong heading skills, a tactic increasingly criticised as cowardly after Germany have played such entertaining football in recent years.

There are no speedy fullbacks in the line-up, and they had been a key part of Germany's attack.

GLARING

Their absence was most glaring against Algeria, when Mustafi and Benedikt Hoewedes - on the right and left respectively - played their worst matches of the tournament and failed to get forward to crack open a tight defence.

What is also baffling is that Germany have a plethora of outstanding midfielders on the bench, including Lukas Podolski and Andre Schuerrle, but a dearth of top defenders.

Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer also said that he would be happy to see Lahm return to the right-back slot, but was careful to avoid criticising his coach.

"I'm happy when Philipp plays right back," said Neuer. "He brings a lot of zip to our game. We're stronger offensively when he plays fullback.

"But I feel comfortable when he's in the midfield. He can play both positions almost perfectly."

The Germans have come under withering criticism back home and in the media about the team's struggles against Algeria, the United States and Ghana, and Koepke said the weaknesses are being critically analysed and discussed internally.

"Obviously, not everything has been ideal so far and we're aware of that," said Koepke.

"And we don't beat around the bush about that in our internal discussions.

"These things are being addressed internally because we know if we don't address them, we clearly won't advance further."

Koepke added that he had ignored the critical media coverage as the three-time world champions struggled after a dazzling 4-0 opening win over Portugal.

"Believe it or not, I don't read any newspapers, and that's a good thing," said Koepke.

"As far as all the experts out there and their opinions are concerned, if I talked to five experts, I'd get five different opinions about what the line-up should be.

"We have to decide what's best. We can't let ourselves be pressured. We've already got enough pressure on us."

- Wire Services.

Hummels, Podolski back in training


FIT: German defender Mats Hummels (top) and winger Lukas Podolski (above) will be available against France tomorrow. PHOTOS: AFP, REUTERS

Germany defender Mats Hummels and winger Lukas Podolski took part in training this morning (Singapore time).

And they are ready for tomorrow's World Cup quarter-final against France, assistant coach Andreas Koepke said this morning.

Hummels, a stalwart in Germany's central defence, came down with flu before Germany's last-16 match against Algeria on Monday, while Podolski pulled a thigh muscle in their final Group G game against the United States, which they won 1-0.

Koepke said the only injured player in the squad was defender Shkodran Mustafi, who suffered a torn hamstring in the Algeria match and will miss the rest of the tournament.

"Everyone was in training today and ready for action," said Koepke.

"And we assume they'll all be flying to Rio tonight."

Koepke said that Hummels and Podolski took part in a closed training session this morning, playing "soccer tennis" and jogging. - Reuters.

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