THERE can’t be many things a World Cup-winning coach has left on his footballing bucket list but Joachim Löw will tick off another of his to-dos tonight.
Hampden Park may have its critics but it at least retains a worldwide reputation as one of the most famous venues in the game.
Germany manager Löw appears genuinely enthused by the prospect of leading his team into Euro 2016 qualifying conflict against Scotland in front of a sell-out crowd at the stadium.
“Coming to Hampden is a first for me,” said the 55-year-old who will take charge of his country for the 124th time this evening. “Neither as a player or a coach have I been fortunate enough to be there before. I’m looking forward to it, to the unique atmosphere, pride and passion of not just the Scottish players but their public.
“It is always special to play here or in Great Britain generally. They have fantastic fans who are fair-minded and keep up their support no matter the result.
“It’s nice for me to tick off Hampden as a stadium to play in. I’ll always remember playing a World Cup final in Rio last year, but if you ask me if there is another place I would still like to add, it would be the Stade de France for the Euro 2016 final next year.”
That is an indication of the high standards set and ambitions still held by Löw who, since becoming Germany manager in 2006, has never seen his team finish worse than third place in European Championship or World Cup finals tournaments.
They arrive at Hampden buoyed by their 3-1 win over Poland in Frankfurt on Friday night which put them top of Group D, now five points ahead of Scotland who slipped to fourth place with their 1-0 defeat in Georgia.
“I don’t think Scotland losing to Georgia will be of any advantage to us, not in the least,” said Löw. “It won’t do their fighting spirit or passion any harm at all.
“If anything, it will make them even more dangerous. They will want to reboot themselves and their team. Whatever they are up against, when they play Germany, England or other big time opponents, they will give everything they’ve got from the first minute to last, if they want to be in with a chance of reaching Euro 2016.
“Scotland are having a last chance against us in many eyes, because they have now fallen behind Poland and Ireland, but they will give their all.”
Germany appear to have shrugged off their post-World Cup hangover with which they made a less than convincing start to their Euro 2016 campaign.
But amid the plaudits they received for their victory over the Poles three days ago, they still attracted criticism from their former goalkeeper Jens Lehmann. In his role as a TV pundit, Lehmann claimed the German defence suffers from a lack of pace, especially in the full-back positions. Löw, however, insists he has faith in Liverpool’s Emre Can, who made his debut at right-back, and Cologne left-back Jonas Hector.
“Right-back and left-back continue to be a bit of a sticking point for us,” admitted Löw. “Philipp Lahm was a role model for many years, for example, and is hard to replace. Can and Hector need to get better for Euro 2016, they know that themselves, but I’m very confident in them. I don’t think there is an issue with a lack of pace in our team, we have some very quick players at the back. It is about mental alertness, being able to read the game and making the right decisions fast.”
Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer will also have his first taste of Hampden tonight and admits he and his team-mates would have been less than impressed by the kind of travel disruption experienced by the Scots on their return from Tbilisi when they did not get back to their hotel base in Renfrewshire until 7am on Saturday morning. “If that had happened to us, there is no doubt we’d have thought it far from ideal, to put it mildly,” he said.
“It’s really bad luck but I don’t think it will be allowed to affect the performances of the Scottish players against us. Although Scotland are bitterly disappointed after losing in Georgia, they will be like a boxer who has taken a couple of knocks and will desperately want to show their public they can do better.”