Hansi Flick sat alone at the top table of press conference room one, a visible demonstration of an isolated Germany manager under pressure. The reason for his solo appearance may result in a fine from Fifa, but will be worth every Swiss franc should it help the four-time world champions pull away from a humiliating early exit.
Things are done differently in Qatar, as you may have heard, and media duties are no exception. A manager plus a player must appear at a press conference the day before a game – only at this World Cup that does not take place at the stadium or a team training ground, but at Fifa’s main media centre in Doha. For Germany, that involves a 210km round trip from their Al Shamal training base on the northern tip of Qatar. For Flick, who knows defeat to an in-form Spain on Sunday will spell almost certain elimination from the tournament, that is no way to prepare for the most loaded assignment of his international reign. So he showed up alone.
“We can’t expect a player to come along and drive for three hours. It’s a very important match so I told them I’m going to come and do it on my own,” Germany’s manager said. “Every player in the 26 is important so I asked them not to come along because it is important they devote energy to the training session.
“We are disappointed. We have a very good media centre [at the training ground] and it would have been possible for a player [to come] if the press conference had been held closer.”
The DFB, Germany’s football federation, asked to relocate the press conference but Fifa refused, fearing it would set an inconvenient precedent. Fifa’s response is also expected to include a fine for the player no-show.
After his media appearance Flick returned north to conduct another training session before the Spain showdown. There is work to be done following the shock opening defeat to Japan, and to address the prolific threat of Luis Enrique’s young team.
“The main focus for me has been the football,” said Flick, when asked about the many distractions that have surrounded Germany in Qatar such as the OneLove armband and the team’s subsequent protest. “I’m convinced about what we want to do and how we want to play football, even if we can’t get to 100% and are less intense than our opponent.
“Japan was hard to take, it was bitter and it could have been avoided. But we need to stick to our guns. We have the quality and we are optimistic. This is what it’s all about – be brave. We are going to see a team tomorrow that gives its utmost to make sure we get into the final 16. The door is still open.”
Spain have an ominous recent record of closing tournament doors on Germany. Flick was assistant to Joachim Löw when Germany lost to Spain in the 2008 European Championship final in Vienna and the 2010 World Cup semi-final in Durban. “I’ve been present for many games against Spain in the past, when we lost in 2008 and 2010 as well,” he said. “That doesn’t matter any more. The other games are in the past and tomorrow is the future.
“If you look at the last two tournaments [Euro 2020 and the 2018 World Cup] we didn’t do as well and we want to stop that happening. Tomorrow is the first final for us in this World Cup. This is what it’s all about. We want to prevent going out.”
Germany finished bottom of a group containing Sweden, Mexico and South Korea at the last World Cup. At last summer’s delayed European Championships they were beaten in the last 16 by England. Those two poor performances paved the way for Flick to succeed Löw, but the change of manager has not altered the reservations about the team and trepidation stalks the buildup to Sunday’s crucial game at Al Bayt Stadium.
The loss of German self-confidence and standing was underlined by Flick’s response when asked whether the country could still consider itself a favourite on the international stage. “Sunday’s match will show that,” he said. “Wait and see. Maybe I can answer this question better then.”
Flick has come in for criticism over his starting selection and substitutions against Japan. He is not losing sleep over what to do next. He said: “I am not quite certain of the lineup yet, there are several positions open. But I’m going to look at training, have a good night’s sleep and tomorrow I’ll know what lineup I’m going for.
“We have had clear discussions as individuals and as a team. We need to articulate to the players what to do against Spain, where they can find the gaps and be brave, and I’m convinced they know.”