Loew backs under-fire stars as Germany face World Cup crunch match
Germany coach Joachim Loew says he retains faith in his underperforming stars as the defending champions prepare for their pivotal World Cup clash against Sweden on Saturday.
The 2014 World Cup winners have spent the week trying to stave off a crisis after beginning their defence of the trophy with a shock 1-0 defeat against Mexico.
They have come to Sochi knowing that -- depending on the outcome of Mexico's game against South Korea earlier on Saturday -- a defeat could condemn them to an unthinkably premature exit from the tournament. A draw would be little better.
The opening defeat was described as "embarrassing" by Germany's top-selling daily Bild, and several of the most experienced members of Loew's squad have come in for scathing criticism.
Mesut Ozil has been especially targeted, as has midfielder Sami Khedira. There were six survivors from the 2014 final win over Argentina who started against the Mexicans in Moscow, but Loew said one poor performance would not change his opinion of any player.
"Why should that be the case? We are all subject to criticism in terms of performance, that's normal. But this trust in players who have been playing for three, four years at the top level will not be shaken after a single match," the coach said at Sochi's Fisht Stadium on Friday.
He did, however, admit that changes to his starting line-up are likely.
Marco Reus could come in and one man who will almost certainly not play is Mats Hummels, with the Bayern Munich centre-back struggling after "dislodging" a vertebra in his neck.
Chelsea's Antonio Ruediger is likely to take his place alongside Jerome Boateng in central defence, with Germany knowing they need to improve markedly on the disjointed display that saw them ripped apart at times by the Mexicans.
"We shouldn't forget we have also been successful in the last three or four years, and if the team brings their talent and their ability to bear on the pitch then we will prevail," said Loew.
There has been much talk of unhappiness in the German ranks over the choice of World Cup base camp in the forest near Moscow, with the hope that the return to Russia's sun-soaked Black Sea coast will be the tonic they need.
They played three games in Sochi during last year's victorious Confederations Cup campaign, beating Cameroon, Australia and Mexico, albeit with a very different squad.
After not taking part in the 1950 World Cup, the Germans won the trophy in 1954 and have always made it to at least the last eight since then.
They have not been eliminated from any major tournament at the group stage since Euro 2004.
- Champions curse? -
There are fears Germany could follow in the footsteps of Italy and Spain, the 2006 and 2010 winners, whose defence of the trophy ended at the first hurdle four years later in each case.
"Everyone is highly motivated against the title holder and it's very difficult to keep up the hunger and passion to repeat the feat," admitted Loew.
"But we will show a reaction to this. If we win we are back in the race."
After famously ousting Italy in a play-off to qualify, Sweden's 1-0 win over South Korea in their opening game has left them in a strong position in Group F.
Their build-up was not helped after three members of their squad were unable to travel to Sochi on Friday due to a stomach bug.
Among them was defender Pontus Jansson, who played against the Koreans. Striker Isaac Kiese Thelin is an injury doubt, but Manchester United's Victor Lindelof could return after illness.
"Germany are among the big favourites and that we could have the chance to beat them in our second game and knock them out, I don't think many people could have imagined that would happen," said captain Andreas Granqvist.