Germany hopes to repair reputation before hosting Euro 2024

BERLIN (AP) — With the European Championship looming next year, host Germany hopes this week to start repairing the tattered reputation of its men’s national soccer team.

Two World Cup flops and a poor showing in between have taken their toll on what was a proud heritage for Germany. The four-time World Cup winner no longer strikes fear among opponents.

The German soccer federation wants to change that before the country hosts Euro 2024. It’s an opportunity to restore lost pride, albeit with the potential for more embarrassment.

The campaign starts this week with friendly games against Peru in Mainz on Saturday, then Belgium in Cologne three days later.

The federation has given coach Hansi Flick another chance to lead the team after its first-round exit at the 2022 World Cup. It also brought in former Germany striker and coach Rudi Völler as sporting director to oversee what it hopes will be a successful shakeup.

Another one.

Former coach Joachim Löw attempted a shakeup after Germany’s first-round exit at the 2018 World Cup, then ditched it after a 6-0 drubbing by Spain when he recalled veterans Thomas Müller and Mats Hummels for the coronavirus-delayed Euro 2020 tournament. It only got his team as far as the second round, where England ended Löw’s 15-year stint in charge.

Flick is banking on more success with the latest focus on youth, building his squad on a foundation of talented but untested under-21 players. Flick has called up six debutants for the games against Peru and Belgium, while leaving out established regulars like Müller, Leroy Sané, Ilkay Gündogan, Antonio Rüdiger and Marco Reus among others.

“We’ve taken this path to see which players have the potential to be at the European Championship next year,” Flick said.

Bayer Leverkusen’s 19-year-old attacking midfielder Florian Wirtz is the German team’s new star, particularly with Bayern Munich’s 20-year-old Jamal Musiala ruled out of the upcoming games through injury. Both were already established players for the senior team, though Wirtz missed the World Cup last November with a knee injury.

Perhaps to underline Germany’s new faith in its youth setup, under-21 coach Antonio Di Salvo appeared alongside Flick and Völler at Monday’s press conference.

Di Salvo is preparing his team for the Under-21 European Championship in Georgia and Romania this summer, but said he was happy to see players like AC Milan defender Malick Thiaw get their chance with Flick’s senior team.

“It’s an honor for the players. It’s also an honor for all the coaches involved along the way from the club to the under-21 team,” Di Salvo said.

Völler also stressed the importance of Germany’s underage sides.

“I myself am a child of the under-21 team,” said Völler, whose goals helped West Germany win the World Cup in 1990.

The now 62-year-old Völler said Germany’s success at the 1982 Under-21 European Championship, where his team reached the final, laid the foundation for the 1990 World Cup win. He also referred to 2009 European champions Manuel Neuer, Sami Khedira, Benedikt Höwedes, Mesut Özil and others helping Germany win the World Cup in 2014.

“That’s the basis for us,” said Völler, who said all the players in Flick and Di Salvo’s teams had the chance to play for Germany at Euro 2024.

“It’s fortunate we have this wonderful European Championship here next year. It’s important for every player and it shows the young players, especially those who are there, how lovely it is to have such a big tournament in your own country,” Völler said. “Every tournament is hugely important and it brings you forward. But to have a tournament in your own country is something special.”

___ More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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