Qatar and Cologne are more than 6,000 kilometers apart, and there is never such heavy rain on the Rhine in the emirate as it did on Tuesday - and yet this evening in the Müngersdorf stadium felt a lot like the desert and the World Cup. After a continuation of the ill-fated tournament, which ended for the German footballers after the preliminary round.
Almost four months after the failure on the Arabian peninsula, national coach Hansi Flick has to realize that he still hasn't found an answer to the old problems. The construction site in defense has gotten even bigger, and anyone who saw the 2-3 win against Belgium will wonder if it can even be closed before the European Championships kick off next year.
Flick had declared the two games against Peru (2-0) and Belgium as field trials. He wants to "see new players who can give us new energy," he said. He did not call up regulars like Antonio Rüdiger, Niklas Süle and Thomas Müller. The experimental setup itself raises questions: is it really time to roll the dice and try things out? Don't experiments make more sense when there is a stable foundation and you make small changes here and there? Where should the gain in knowledge lie when a team is radically re-formed and it is clear anyway that this will never be the team for the EM 2024?
The German national team will not play a single competitive game until the start of the European Championship in mid-June next year; Flick would actually have to declare every test game an emergency in order to harden his first eleven under competitive conditions. Instead, youngsters like Kevin Schade (Brentford), Josha Vagnoman (Stuttgart) and Mergim Berisha (Augsburg) were allowed to make their debut. Among the debutants was Marius Wolf, who is already 27 years old.
Flick used him as a right-back – which was surprising, because Wolf recently shone as an offensive player at Borussia Dortmund. Flick seems infatuated with the idea of turning attacking players into defensive players. He had previously tried Jonas Hofmann from Gladbach, also on the right flank. This may work against weaker teams like Peru - but not against a world-class team like Belgium, currently number four in the Fifa rankings. After just six minutes, Wolff was overrun for the first time; a simple body trick by Belgium's Yannick Carrasco was all it took to clear the path to goal. Atletico Madrid striker Carrasco relaxed to make it 1-0.
Wolf wasn't the only one overwhelmed on Tuesday night. Thilo Kehrer, who had moved into central defense for the injured Nils Schlotterbeck, literally smashed into Belgium's Romelu Lukaku. The attacker, 1.91 meters tall and weighing more than 100 kilos, checked his opponents out of the way in a way that is otherwise only known from ice hockey. Matthias Ginter also tried his hand at Lukaku a few times, but was shaken off just as unfriendly as his neighbor Kehrer.
One of the few who successfully opposed the Belgian offensive was Emre Can. Flick brought him in after 32 minutes because Leon Goretzka was injured. Can gave the classic clearer in front of the back four - with his substitution, the statics of the German game changed significantly for the better. Whenever one of the Belgian strikers wanted to make a hook, the Dortmunder straddled in between. Can was in all positions in defence, he stole balls and immediately distributed them again. If there was a winner on this rather dreary night of football, then it was Can.
So far, Flick had only seen him as a role player. He was the man for the rough stuff, always asked when things got heated on the pitch and physique was required. After the game against Belgium, Flick now knows that he can entrust Can with much more complex tasks. And he also knows that a double six with Leon Goretzka and Joshua Kimmich may be the best solution in terms of game aesthetics, but that defensive work is defensive work and has to be done by workers like Can.
Flick now has two months to draw conclusions from his large-scale field tests. The next so-called international window will open in June; then it's against Poland and Ukraine, among others. Both rather smaller numbers in world football, but that shouldn't be a reason for Flick to open the experimental kit again.