BERLIN/ NEW YORK: Joachim Loew’s world champions Germany head to Prague for Friday’s World Cup qualifier against the Czech Republic focused on preserving their 100% record.
The match is Germany’s first international of a season which finishes with the World Cup final.
Having won all six qualifiers so far in Group C, victory at Prague’s Eden Arena will leave Germany on the verge of confirming their place at Russia 2018 before hosting Norway in Stuttgart on Monday, when they could qualify if results elsewhere go their way.
Winger Serge Gnabry is out of both games with an ankle injury, while Juventus midfielder Sami Khedira sat out Wednesday’s training with a knee knock.
Few German fans will need reminding that the team’s last heavy defeat in qualifiers came ten years ago in Prague when Loew’s men were humbled 3-0.
However, the Czech Republic were beaten by the same scoreline when the sides met in Hamburg last October with two goals by Thomas Mueller.
“We know the Czechs from the first game, they like to start at a high pace, but we dealt with that well, scoring two second-half goals,” said Germany’s left-back Jonas Hector. “We’ve won all of our qualifiers so far and we want to keep that record.”
Competition for places is fierce with head coach Loew having called up 17 of the squad which won the Confederations Cup in July and named just seven World Cup winners.
“We got what we wanted from the Confed Cup, the chance to broaden our group of players and give others a rest,” said team manager Oliver Bierhoff. “It was important to give players like Toni Kroos or Sami Khedira more of a break, they remain a fundamental part of the team and they will come back in which will give us added strength.”
World Cup-winners Thomas Mueller, Kroos, Mats Hummels, Mesut Ozil and Khedira, if he is fit, are likely to return to the starting line-up after missing the Confed Cup triumph.
Mueller will be looking to blow off his frustration at Bayern Munich, having been left on the bench by Carlo Ancelotti until the final 17 minutes of Saturday’s 2-0 win at Werder Bremen.
“Thomas Mueller is one of a kind, he is a big name for us,” said Bierhoff. “It can happen that one doesn’t play, I just hope that Bayern realise he is an identity figure for people who come to the stadium. A striker always needs some support, but he is quite relaxed when he is with us.”
US look to finish job with Costa Rica qualifier
United States captain Michael Bradley has called on his team-mates to finish the job as they aim to take a giant stride towards the 2018 World Cup with victory over Costa Rica on Friday.
The Americans have gradually hauled themselves back into the CONCACAF qualifying fray after a rocky start which included a 4-0 drubbing by the Costa Ricans in San Jose last November.
That humiliating defeat led to the dismissal of former coach Jurgen Klinsmann and the return of veteran Bruce Arena shortly afterwards.
The US have been undefeated since the return of Arena, a run that included victory in the CONCACAF Gold Cup in July as well as a battling 1-1 away draw against Mexico in June.
Mexico, who face Panama on Friday, lead the six-team round robin final qualification table with 14 points from six games. Costa Rica are second with 11 points while the US occupy the third automatic qualification spot with eight points.
A win over Costa Rica at New Jersey’s Red Bull Arena on Friday would see the Americans draw level on points with “Los Ticos”, and potentially move four points clear of fourth-placed Panama.