Germany clinging to hope of new era after horror year

On one level, there is not much at stake for Germany
when they host old rivals Holland
in the Nations League
on Monday night. Joachim Low's side are already doomed to relegation, not even a win can save them from that embarrassment.
Yet beyond the befuddling structures of UEFA's new tournament, Germany have a great deal to play for on Monday. They are playing to regain the goodwill of their fans, and bragging rights over their rivals. They are playing to defend their status in international football. They are playing, at the end of a dismal and shambolic 2018, for pride.
'It's a shame for us that we can't change anything with regards to the Nations League in this game,' said Low on Sunday. 'We were all disappointed on Friday.' 
Germany's relegation was sealed when Holland beat France
last week, expunging any hope that they might still be able to save themselves on Monday. Yet as Low points out, a win could still see them land among the top 10 in the Nations League, which would see them seeded for the Euro 2020 qualification draw next month.
More than anything, though, Monday night's game will be about saving face. From the World Cup exit to Friday's relegation, it has been a harrowing year for the German national team.
The statistics tell a gloomy story. Despite last week's 3-0 thrashing of Russia, Germany are still without a win in four competitive games, their worst run since 2000. By number of defeats, this is already one of the worst years in their history, and if they fail to score on Monday night, it will be the first time that they have ended a calendar year having scored an average of less than a goal a game.
The dreadful football, coupled with well-documented off-field scandals, has alienated a lot of fans. According to official statistics only 36,000 fans watched the win over Russia in Leipzig last week, leaving 6,000 empty seats. To the naked eye, even that figure seemed generous. Joshua Kimmich described the atmosphere at the Red-Bull-Arena as being 'like a swimming pool'.
The German FA have said that they expect to get closer to a full house in Gelsenkirchen on Monday night. After last week's performance gave cause for new hope, fans and players alike are hoping to finally shake off the shackles of this year, and launch themselves into a new era.
'We want to end this very bad year with a win,' said Kimmich on Sunday. 'We want to get back to the top level and compete with the very best again.'
23 Mar Germany 1-1 Spain (Friendly) 
27 Mar Germany 0-1 Brazil (Friendly) 
2 Jun Austria 2-1 Germany (Friendly) 
8 Jun Germany 2-1 Saudi Arabia (Friendly)
17 Jun Germany 0-1 Mexico (World Cup) 
23 Jun Germany 2-1 Sweden (World Cup) 
27 Jun South Korea 2-0 Germany (World Cup) 
6 Sep Germany 0-0 France (Nations League) 
9 Sep Germany 2-1 Peru (Friendly) 
13 Oct Holland 3-0 Germany (Nations League) 
16 Oct France 2-1 Germany (Nations League) 
15 Nov Germany 3-0 Russia (Friendly)
19 Nov Germany v Holland (Nations League) 
In order to do that, change is needed, particularly when it comes to personnel. Joachim Low has been slow to deliver the upheaval he promised after the World Cup, and has come under increasing pressure to put more faith in his younger players. The game against Russia was the surest sign yet that he is getting there, with the likes of Leroy Sane, Kai Havertz and Serge Gnabry delivering Germany's best performance of the year.
Other than Toni Kroos and Marco Reus, it is hard to see any of the group who were around in 2014 whose place in the new order will be secure. Thomas Muller hopes to pick up his 100th cap against Holland, but he might not see too many after that. Manuel Neuer is under pressure from Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Jerome Boateng was left out of the squad for this batch of fixtures.
While Kroos may take over the captain's role initially, it is Kimmich who looks primed to secure it in the long term. The serious, hard-working Bayern Munich midfielder has already shown he is not afraid to publicly contradict Kroos, and spoke this week of his own claims to seniority in the squad, having been put up for the press conference ahead of the Holland game.
The message from Kimmich was clear. Relegation or no relegation, Monday night's game is the start of a new era. If the 3-0 defeat by Holland earlier this year was emblematic of the misery of 2018, then a win against them now would be symbolic of a new hope.
Even among the empty seats and the embarrassment of relegation, there is a grim determination around Germany this week. General manager Oliver Bierhoff spoke of 'prestige' and 'development' ahead of the Holland game.
'There was a lot of frustration after we were relegated,' he said. 'But maybe that blow was necessary to make sure that we start again with a clean slate next year.' 

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