Despite his full concentration on the difficult football test against Belgium, Hansi Flick did not want to forget a call to the birthday boy Manuel Neuer.
"I tried to reach him, but he couldn't be reached. I'll catch up on that," announced the national coach before the journey to the 999th international match in DFB history in Cologne, which was also complicated for the German national team due to the big day of strike .
Flick's focus on the endurance test against the Belgians, who are also still suffering from the after-effects of their World Cup shock, shouldn't have gone crazy with a congratulatory phone call to the injured captain on his 37th birthday. The national coach knows exactly how important another success on Tuesday (8.45 p.m. / RTL) against the Belgians, who are still nibbling on their own Qatar mortgage, is now after the slight encouragement in the 2-0 win against Peru.
"We took the first step. It was good that we started the year with a win," said Flick. "The focus is clearly that we want to play this game successfully," added the 58-year-old. And warned: "Belgium is of a different caliber."
Final training with 21 players
The north wind blew coldly across the Frankfurt DFB campus when Flick and the 21 players who remained after Kai Havertz (flu infection) and Nico Schlotterbeck (muscular problems) were out and played in the final training session. New representative Marc-André ter Stegen marched quickly ahead to a side pitch for separate goalkeeper training with Kevin Trapp and Bernd Leno. Flick, appropriately dressed in a hat and thick jacket, grabbed Emre Can for a one-on-one interview at the beginning.
The great qualities of the Dortmunder - physicality, passion, intensity - will be in demand again against the fast and powerful Belgians around captain Kevin De Bruyne. "Emre did well," Flick praised the DFB returnee for his comeback against Peru. Can has literally earned the place next to Germany's leader Joshua Kimmich as a six. "It's about getting stability into the game," demanded Flick.
Also against Belgium with double leadership
The national coach wants to make "little changes" compared to the Peru victory. He is forced to make two changes. For the ailing Havertz, who is plagued by fever after the good Peru game, Serge Gnabry will play behind the new double leadership with Torgarant Niclas Füllkrug and the hard-working Timo Werner. Thilo Kehrer takes the place of Schlotterbeck in central defense alongside Matthias Ginter, who is playing his 50th international match against Belgium and possibly Leon Goretzka.
Ginter - at least in the squad when he triumphed in Rio in 2014 - is the positive prototype for Flick when it comes to his initially controversial personnel concept for the March course. Otherwise in the shadow of Antonio Rüdiger and Niklas Süle, Flick is now deliberately putting the Freiburg player in charge with a lot of playing time. "He showed that you can rely on him," said the national coach.
Flick sees his strategy with many new faces in the squad and the break for many regulars already working. Everyone played freely in a "refreshing atmosphere". Flick left it open whether, after Marius Wolf, Kevin Schade and Mergim Berisha, the three other newcomers Malick Thiaw, Felix Nmecha and Josha Vagnoman would also get at least a few international minutes. He made no promises.
Kehrer feels "new energy" in the team
It has to fit in the course of the game. For the national coach, success in this still delicate probationary phase is more important than experiments. "In the end, victories are always good for self-image and self-confidence," said Flick. Kehrer, who could be given the task of defending against Belgium's resurgent striker Romelo Lukaku as a replacement for Schlotterbeck, feels a "new energy" in the DFB team.
The top Bundesliga game between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund on Saturday is also irrelevant to Flick's Belgium strategy. There are no compromises with the same playing times for the two remaining Dortmunders (Wolf and Can) and three from Munich (Kimmich, Gnabry, Goretzka). He and his coaching team "will not make a precise plan as to who will play how many minutes. We don't have to." Each of the top professionals "can play a football game every three or four days. That's not a problem for these players, nothing new," said former Bayern coach Flick.
In the duel of the World Cup losers, Belgium is the first real indicator for Flick of the path to the European Championship at home, which has been conjured up as a new start. The preliminary round in Qatar cost the opponent coach Roberto Martinez – in contrast to Flick at the DFB – the job. The Belgian golden generation, like the German Kimmich-born in 1995/96, is sliding towards the EM 2024 without a title. And showed a good reaction under the new coach Domenico Tedesco, who is well known from the Bundesliga. Three goals from Lukaku earned Sweden a respectable 3-0 win on Friday.
Germany and Belgium have avoided each other in recent years. The lot never brought them together in tournament qualifiers. For example, superstar De Bruyne has never played against the DFB team. In Flick's current squad, no one has seen Belgium as an opponent on the pitch. The last duel in 2011 was won 3-1 with goals from Mesut Özil, André Schürrle and Mario Gomez. When Germany last lost a game against Belgium 69 years ago, the national coach was still called Sepp Herberger.