Richard Buxton: Build Germany around Toni Kroos
Real midfielder's guile, industry and experience will be vital for Euro 2020 title charge
Toni Kroos remains a Rolls-Royce engine trapped in the shell of Germany's second-hand car.
He glides through games with an effortlessness that brings the continual stuttering of Joachim Loew's largely imbalanced side into sharp focus. And yet, Die Mannschaft continue to envisage a future without him.
An all-encompassing display as the four-time world champions booked their place at Euro 2020 yesterday morning (Singapore time) should force an embarrassing U-turn by some.
Kroos did not simply steal the spotlight in a 4-0 win over Belarus; he completely ran the show.
Borussia Park doubled up as the Real Madrid man's personal playground.
He recorded more touches than any other player, four successful dribble attempts, 12 ball recoveries, an 87.9 per cent pass completion rate and five out of eight shots on target.
A direct hand in two goals on the international stage for the first time since the 7-1 demolition of Brazil in the 2014 World Cup semi-finals merely added to his ongoing appeal.
The 29-year-old has always been an outlier within Germany's current generation, not least as the only World Cup winner to hail from the Eastern bloc of their homeland's former divide.
Tireless industry makes Kroos "indispensable" in Loew's eyes, but even he has been guilty of taking his compatriot for granted with attempts to fashion Kai Havertz into his replacement.
He saw Bayer Leverkusen's free-scoring midfielder as a long-term solution to Kroos with a third consecutive call-up, before a thigh injury forced him to withdraw from duty prematurely.
Like Havertz, Kroos' path to world football's summit came via a stint at the BayArena.
If, as expected, the prodigious talent follows in his footsteps by joining Bayern Munich next summer, it will only serve to intensify that talk of a succession plan with the national side.
But the incumbent is still refusing to pass on the baton yet, which is just as well.
More than most, he has handled the pressure of being hyped as a "Jahrhunderttalent" (talent of the century).
Whether it was Bayern's 2013 Treble, Germany's last World Cup win or Real Madrid's hat-trick of Champions League titles, Kroos has dominated for both club and country.
If Euro 2020 proves to be his last stand on the international stage, he has a chance to bow out in the ultimate fashion while also providing a difficult act for Havertz to follow.
Kroos' ubiquity in games had already thrown down the gauntlet to his likely usurper but took it to another level against a stubborn Belarus side that made their hosts work for the win.
As Germany languished in second gear, their No. 8 hit top speed with a tee-up for Leon Goretzka, quickly followed by a sweeping finish of his own before saving the best for last.
Havertz made no secret that Kroos has become his greatest role model, but he will still struggle to emulate the former Bayern man's breakneck vision in pulling a 180-degree turn on one defender, cutting inside past another and then drilling low past Aleksandr Gutor.
Experience, or rather a lack of it, was behind the Real midfielder's reasoning that Germany are not currently among the favourites for Euro 2020.
If Loew is to conquer that final frontier at next summer's Finals, Kroos needs to be front and centre of his attempted reboot.
WHO HAS QUALIFIED FOR EURO 2020?
- Group A: England, Czech Republic
- Group B: Ukraine, Portugal
- Group C: Germany, Holland
- Group D: Yet to be decided
- Group E: Croatia
- Group F: Spain, Sweden
- Group G: Poland, Austria
- Group H: France, Turkey
- Group I: Belgium, Russia
- Group J: Italy, Finland
Joachim Loew running out of time to get young side ready for Euro 2020
Germany coach Joachim Loew is running out of time to mould his fledgling team into Euro 2020 title contenders.
Despite dominating possession in Moenchengladbach yesterday morning (Singapore time), Loew's young team struggled against minnows Belarus before goals from Matthias Ginter, Leon Goretzka and Toni Kroos (brace) sealed a 4-0 win, which confirmed their Euro 2020 qualification.
Despite qualifying from Group C along with Holland, Wednesday morning's (Singapore time) final game against Northern Ireland in Frankfurt is now far from meaningless for the 59-year-old Loew.
A victory will put Germany, who won the last of their three European titles in 1996, in the pot of eight group winners when the draw for the Finals is made in Bucharest, Romania, on Nov 30.
"Now we have a chance to top this group, so it's our goal to win and finish," said Loew.
However, the Germany coach knows there's still a lot to work to be done if his side are to challenge for the European title at the Finals from June 12 to July 12.
As magazine Kicker pointed out, the Belarus victory highlighted the "many obvious sites" under reconstruction.
The Germans' finishing often let them down at Borussia Park. Top teams, such as Belgium, France, England, Spain or Holland, all currently ranked above them, would have not allowed Germany 31 shots on goal.
At the back, Ginter was outstanding, but fellow defenders Nico Schulz and Robin Koch looked unsure against a side ranked 86 places below the Germans.
Koch clumsily gave away the second-half penalty on Pavel Nekhaychik before Manuel Neuer spared blushes by saving Igor Stasevich's spot-kick.
In his pre-match admission, Loew had said "many players still need a few more years to develop" and that "Germany are not among the favourites for Euro 2020".
After the Belarus game, he added: "We have reached our goal (of qualification)... We saw some good combinations out there. In some phases, we allowed one chance too many. Certainly not everything was perfect but, all in all, I am happy.
"That was one of four games until the squad for the European Championship is announced, so it was important that we showed the character that we need, and want to see, at next year's tournament."
Kroos, 29, insisted there is still room for improvement.
"Until we went 1-0 up, it is always difficult against opponents like that," said the Real Madrid star.
"Overall, we did well but, at the moment, I don't include us among the favourites for the European title. The important thing is that we play as a team in the March internationals."
After Wednesday's home game, the Germans have just two matches in March - against as yet unconfirmed opponents - before Loew must name his squad for the Euro 2020 Finals, which will be hosted in 12 cities across Europe.
"This is very little time in this all-too-sluggish rejuvenation process," moaned Kicker.
Time may not be on Loew's side, but he will at least hope to rely on his experienced campaigners like Kroos to help lead his young side.
"Kroos is extremely important for the team, he's always ready to play, always keeps his cool - he's elementary for such a young team. He does that very well." - AFP