When the sun went down, Hansi Flick started his big mission. On Tuesday evening, the national soccer coach blew his red whistle on the lawn of the stadium in the Sultan Qaboos Sports Center in Muscat, starting the training session. It was a symbolic action: kick-off of the World Cup mission.
"It's good to accept the temperatures, to accept the times of the day," said Flick. During training in the capital of Oman, it was 29 degrees, plus a three-hour time difference to Germany. For the 57-year-old it will be the first World Cup as national coach - many challenges make the tournament and the days before a special one for him and his players.
Since Monday evening, Flick's team in Muscat has been preparing for the World Cup in Qatar, which begins on Sunday. Tuesday's practice session was the first in the training camp. This Wednesday (6 p.m., RTL) is the last test before the World Cup against Oman. The game is advertised with posters on the main streets of Muscat, and the game is a big topic among taxi drivers. The only encounter so far with the current world number 75. Germany won 2-0 in Muscat in February 1998 after goals from Jürgen Kohler and Jörg Heinrich.
These are important days for Flick and his players. They have moved into rooms in the Hotel Kempinski, directly on the sea, with a private beach. Here everyone should “shut down” again until the kick-off against Oman, as Flick said. Stress management is crucial these days. The German Football Association (DFB) entourage will fly from Muscat to the tournament's host country on Thursday.
"Back to the top of the world" - this was the motto of Flick when he succeeded Joachim "Jogi" Löws a good year ago. He wants to work on that in Oman. He has much less time to prepare with the team than Löw has in past tournaments, when the team was usually together for around two weeks.
“This time the national coach doesn't have the opportunity to go to a two-week training camp with us. He depends on the work at the club,” said midfielder Leon Goretzka. And revealed what Flick told his players weeks ago: "It was a clear message from Hansi that we would kindly get in good shape and get in shape."
That worked, especially the “Bayern Block” around Goretzka was in top form recently. The German record champions provide seven players for Flick's World Cup squad, more than any other German club. Now it's also about developing a special team spirit. “Because the World Cup has been postponed to winter, the preparation for the tournament is different from previous ones. We don't have much time," said Oliver Bierhoff, Managing Director National Teams. "The players come from regular Bundesliga matches and it was important to us that they were able to acclimate to the World Cup region."
In the World Cup preliminary round, Germany will play Japan on November 23 (2 p.m. German time), Spain on November 27 (8 p.m.) and Costa Rica on December 1 (8 p.m.). Should the German team finish first in Group E, the round of 16 against the second in Group F (Belgium, Croatia, Morocco, Canada) would take place on Monday (December 5, 4 p.m.). If the selection of the DFB were second, it would be a day later against the winner of Group F.
Flick works in Oman, among other things, on the offensive. Thomas Müller, the most experienced player in the German World Cup squad with 118 international matches, was recently struck. He didn't take part in the final training on Tuesday evening, sat in sneakers on a cooler on the sidelines and watched his colleagues. Mario Götze, Toni Rüdiger, Matthias Ginter and Christian Günter also took a break, everyone had trained individually during the day, reserve goalkeeper Marc-André ter Stegen from FC Barcelona is missing due to an infection. He is expected to join the team in the coming days. "Thomas had a long break, but trained very well in Munich," said Flick Tuesday. Müller should train with the team on Saturday, and that also applies to Rüdiger.
It is also important to integrate Niclas Füllkrug: The in-form Werder Bremen striker has been nominated for the A selection for the first time. Under Flick, the national team has scored just four of their 45 goals from crosses, just two with a header, and attacker Timo Werner from RB Leipzig is injured at the World Cup. In addition to Füllkrug, 17-year-old Youssoufa Moukoko from Borussia Dortmund could also make his debut against Oman. And then there is the exciting question: Who will play next to Joshua Kimmich in central midfield at the World Cup – Goretzka from FC Bayern or Ilkay Gündogan from Manchester City? A difficult decision for Flick, both professionals have the right to be part of the starting XI. "We'll see what the players offer us. And who needs minutes of play or rather a break,” said Flick about the days in Oman. His goalkeeper Manuel Neuer is fit again after a break in the fall and is still the best goalkeeper in the world for Flick, as the national coach emphasized after the first training session in Oman.
During its squad nomination last week, the DFB played some video messages from world champions, including Löw and Sami Khedira. Both highlighted team spirit as a crucial factor. "Hansi, remember what made us so strong in 2014," Löw said in this regard. At that time, Germany won the World Cup in Brazil, Flick was Löw's assistant. As the boss, he hardly has time for team-building activities. In Oman, Flick will keep the speech to the team rather short, the intensive discussions will take place in Qatar. “I was well received by the team. It is important that everyone believes in success,” said Füllkrug. "I can take a lot with me in every training session." He is always grateful for criticism, "it only makes you better."
There are various functions on the offensive, most recently Serge Gnabry was in top form. "Serge is a very dangerous player, no matter where he is on the pitch," said Goretzka, who is also a teammate at FC Bayern. Kai Havertz from Chelsea is also a player who can play up front. "But that's the job of the national coach to find a solution."
What is the goal of the big mission? The world title? Germany has disappointed in past tournaments, at the 2018 World Cup in Russia the team under Löw, as the defending champions, was eliminated in the preliminary round. "I'm sticking with Jamal Musiala," said Goretzka. "He recently put it in a nutshell: I don't think you need to go there if you don't think you can become world champion."