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Flick’s Germany look to regain ‘Team of the Tournament’ status in QatarAchi News

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Usually favorites in any tournament they enter, uncertain Germany travel to Qatar hoping to reignite their “team of the competition” status.

Like nerves in penalty shootouts, pre-match issues have traditionally seemed less of an issue for Germany, known for their ability to flick a switch and perform when it really matters.

This time, however, the four-time World Cup champions have been plagued by back-to-back concerns, including the late withdrawal of striker Timo Werner and injury concerns surrounding captain Manuel Neuer.

From a poor showing at Euro 2004, Germany made at least the semi-finals of every World Cup and European Championship, until a disappointing group stage exit in 2018 – their first World Cup exit in 80 years.

Coach Hansi Flick, who took over after Germany’s last-16 loss to England at Euro 2020, has had a stellar if not stellar record in his 15 games, with nine wins, five draws and one defeat.

However, one of Flick’s main concerns is the condition of goalkeeper Neuer, who missed more than a month with a shoulder injury in October and early November.

Neuer’s club coach, Julian Nagelsmann, raised eyebrows across the country in late October.

“I don’t know, because I’m not a clairvoyant,” Nagelsmann lamented about his captain’s “stupid shoulder.”

While some teams boast backup keepers in Barcelona’s Marc-Andre der Stegen and Eintracht Frankfurt’s Kevin Trapp, Neuer brings more than just a shot-stopping presence to Germany.

Another concern for the former Bayern coach is how his team will convert their quality into goals, especially in the absence of RB Leipzig’s Werner.

Werner returned to the Bundesliga after an unhappy two years at Premier League side Chelsea in August with the World Cup in mind.

Flick, who has publicly encouraged Werner to return, has seen the 26-year-old striker hit his best form, scoring five goals in six games against Shakhtar Donetsk after a slow start.

Flick released a statement saying the “bitter news” would be a “great loss” for Werner and Germany.

“We will have to do without a great striker with a strong goal ratio in the national jersey, and we will be without a real team player.”

Germany have no ready-made replacements ahead of them, with at least one inexperienced player likely to get a call-up for Qatar.

One candidate is Borussia Dortmund’s teenage sensation Youssef Moukogo, who is already leading his side’s attack in the Bundesliga and Champions League at the age of 17.

Dortmund coach Edin Tercic said it was “a matter of time” before Moukogo became a regular part of Germany, given “how well the teenager makes Borussia Dortmund’s game”.

Speaking after Werner’s absence was confirmed, Derzic said Flick “has enough expertise and experience” to judge Moukoko’s quality.

At the other end of the age spectrum, 29-year-old Niklas Fulkrug has often sat atop the Bundesliga scoring charts with Werder Bremen this season.

A traditional, broad-shouldered number nine, the talented Fuellkrug endured an injury-hit career and was never selected for Germany.

Fuellkrug’s form has not gone unnoticed, with Flick saying in the days leading up to his final selection that “Nicklas has the skills to enrich our game”.

Other possible options up front include Dortmund’s Karim Adeyemi and Wolfsburg’s Lucas Nmecha, both of whom have previously played for Germany.

Flick will announce his 26-man World Cup squad on November 10.

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