By Oliver Trust
BERLIN, Nov 18 (Xinhua) -- Germany securing their place at the European Championships for the 13th consecutive time can only be the first step for Joachim Low.
The German national team coach is facing the biggest challenge of his reign, having to get things into place in only six months before next summer.
With the 2014 World Cup winners' qualifying match against Northern Ireland ahead this Tuesday evening, the 59-year-old is entering the toughest stage of his tenure.
To outpace group rival and current second-placed team the Netherlands in the last round of matches might at first glance only be of a minor importance. But to win the group could be of significant value for a German squad having to deal with unprecedented issues.
A great deal of tact and patience seems inevitable, aside from the huge expectations that come naturally for a big football nation.
The German coach has lost credit after a disastrous group exit at the 2018 World Cup in Russia and a disappointing Nations League campaign. German football fans are increasingly turning away from their team, with viewing figures going down.
Inviting injured stars such as Julian Draxler, Kevin Trapp, and Thilo Kehrer (all Paris Saint-Germain), Niklas Sule (Bayern Munich) and Antonio Rudiger (Chelsea) for a dinner gathering this week is one of Low's actions to initiate team spirit.
Unbreakable camaraderie was one of the main reasons for winning the 2014 World Cup, allied to a solid defense.
A current injury crisis is endangering the team's preparations. It is unknown whether center-back Sule will recover from his knee injury in time for the tournament, while winger Leroy Sane's comeback is scheduled for spring 2020, with the Manchester City star still having to return to full fitness.
After excluding experienced campaigners such as Thomas Muller, Jerome Boateng (Bayern), and Mats Hummels (Borussia Dortmund) from the national team, a new hierarchy is required. Low is trying to establish a new axis with captain Manuel Neuer (Bayern), Matthias Ginter (Borussia Monchengladbach), and Toni Kroos (Real Madrid).
Established forces are expected to lead a rejuvenated side, with the coach having to shape a competitive squad out of new faces and remaining veterans.
Low said doors might be open for late arrivals completing his final 23-member squad in May, with many pundits and fans calling for the return of Hummels.
Merely qualifying for the knockout stages of the tournament won't be enough to satisfy fans' expectations. Low needs a successful tournament outcome to secure his job beyond 2020. Rumors suggest the coach will considering resigning if he misses his target.
Currently, opponents like Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and France can count on well-balanced squads.
Considering the circumstances, Low is playing down his side's chances of reaching the final, but is aware an underdog role won't be accepted.
PROBLEMS TO SOLVE
The defense seems to be Low's hot spot, with only Ginter and Rudiger providing experience in the center. With Sule possibly missing the tournament and newcomers Robin Koch (SC Freiburg) and Jonathan Tah (Bayer Leverkusen) as backup, the coach is running out of options.
Reselecting Hummels is a possible choice, but not Low's favorite one. The 30-year-old might deliver quality, but Low seems to fear a loss of authority in having to call for the former Bayern defender.
Elsewhere, full-backs Marcel Halstenberg and Lukas Klostermann (both RB Leipzig) still lack consistency.
Up front, Low has to hope that Sane, Serge Gnabry (Bayern), Marco Reus (Dortmund), and Timo Werner (Leipzig) will be in good shape, but the coach still can't count on a striker of true international class.