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Low's new Germany comes at a price

 By Uli Hesse

Germany-Slovakia clash highlights World Cup winners' journey from 2005

The Euro 2016 Round of 16 match between Germany and Slovakia on Sunday in Lille is an encounter that brings back memories of 2005, when Die Nationalmannschaft were left shaken by a defeat during their World Cup preparation.

The 2-0 loss seems an eternity away, considering the glory that has followed, although it was less than 11 years ago. It was a moment when German football was in a deep crisis and people wondered what the future would bring, unaware the country's fabled football revolution was already under way.

In September 2005, Germany travelled to Bratislava for one of the many friendlies coach Jurgen Klinsmann had arranged to make up for the lack of competitive games in the buildup to the 2006 World Cup on home soil.

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Although Klinsmann had reassured the public his team would be ready when the World Cup began, fewer and fewer people were willing to believe him. In August, Germany had been played off the park by Netherlands (the 2-2 scoreline not reflecting what happened on the pitch) and the press wondered why, after one year in the job and the World Cup only months away, Klinsmann was still experimenting.

They had a point. Klinsmann had used more than 30 different players in 17 games and gave nine players their international debut. And yet, Kicker magazine said: "The core of the team is not taking shape and there is no hierarchy," concluding: "The general sense of uncertainty is increasing."

The same went for the pressure on Klinsmann. He desperately needed a result against Slovakia to silence his critics. Perhaps that's why he started a relatively experienced team -- only Bremen's right-back, Patrick Owomoyela, had fewer than 10 international matches under his belt. Or maybe it was because he knew that Slovakia were a lot better than people back home thought, most of whom only knew the three Slovaks active in the Bundesliga: Wolfsburg's Miroslav Karhan plus Nurnberg's Marek Mintal and Robert Vittek.

But Slovakia had a few talented youngsters. The 20-year-old defender Martin Skrtel, for instance. The Germany game would be his third international. Now, a decade later, he's still keeping things together at the back for his country.

There was also a young winger by the name of Filip Holosko. In front of less than 10,000 fans in Bratislava, the Slovan Liberec player proved too fast for a lumbering German defence. On 20 minutes, Holosko ran past the 33-year-old Christian Worns and crossed for Mintal. The striker's first touch let him down, but the ball was picked up by Vittek. He wrapped himself around Per Mertesacker and the defender brought him down. Karhan converted the penalty, sending goalkeeper Jens Lehmann the wrong way to give his team a deserved lead.

Nobody knew it at the time, but the Slovakia game would be Worns' last appearance for Germany. Maybe the events of the first half convinced Klinsmann that his team only stood a chance at the World Cup if he put his faith in some of the younger players, instead of hoping veterans could carry the side through the tournament.

Germany were awful during that first period. Only Sebastian Deisler on the right side of midfield was a ray of hope as the rest of the team seemed tired and uninspired compared to the quick Slovaks. Seven minutes before the break, Mintal found an entirely unmarked Karhan and the midfielder lobbed Lehmann to make it 2-0. The German TV commentator compared Klinsmann's defence to a flock of chicken.

Michael Ballack and Bastian Schweinsteiger couldn't stop Germany from a humbling 2-0 defeat to Slovakia in 2005.

Klinsmann made four changes for the second half. He gave yet another two players their debut, Cologne's Lukas Sinkiewicz and Gladbach's Marcell Jansen, and he also sent Bastian Schweinsteiger and Lukas Podolski on. The average age of that quartet was 19.7 -- the shape of things to come.

Germany were marginally better after the restart as Michael Ballack had a goal chalked off for offside and a defender cleared a Miroslav Klose header off the line. Still, the verdict at home was damning. Kicker said the game was "the low point of the Klinsmann era," and called the team's performance "terrifying".

When the magazine asked a few pundits for comment, Paul Breitner said: "I'm not surprised by the result. The team is in a transition period.

"Perhaps it'll be among the favourites for Euro 2008 or the 2010 World Cup but now it's too early."

Uli Hoeness added: "It would be arrogant to think we could win the World Cup."

Almost 10 months later, seven of the German players who were stunned by Slovakia faced Italy in the World Cup semifinal, and since then, a fourth World Cup has followed.

The aim now is to add the European Championship to the title won in Brazil in 2014, although as Germany know only too well, Slovakia can be a difficult prospect.

Uli covers German football for ESPN FC and has written over 400 columns since 2002.


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