Germany look to top Group A, while Azerbaijan seek their first points in Euro 2012 qualifying.
Germany may have won their Euro 2012 qualifying opener against Belgium, but it was no easy task. The final score read 1-0, and Germany’s one goal required a defensive error before Miroslav Klose buried his only chance of the game.
The World Cup semi-finalists will be relieved by their victory on Friday, but have plenty of work to do if they are to take three points from an Azerbaijan side that will be especially eager to hold onto a point. In a Sunday press conference, Klose was wary of the difficulty of the task at hand.
“In terms of motivation, it will be more difficult to face Azerbaijan than to play Argentina or England, because everyone wants to play these big games and upset us,” the striker told reporters.
“For these nations, to play against Germany is a huge deal and it is a unique chance for them to beat us.”
Germany are no strangers to Tuesday’s opposition; the sides twice met in World Cup 2010 qualifiers. Die Mannschaft won both encounters; 2-0 in Baku and 4-0 in Hannover.
“Azerbaijan are a very athletic team,” Klose warned. “They have the potential to hurt us.”
“We struggled against them before, but the goal is to pocket three more points.”
Depending on the margin, as well as the result of Turkey’s clash with Belgium, victory on Tuesday could leave the Germans atop Group A. Such a result is anything but a foregone conclusion, however.
Against an Azerbaijan side that will surely play to preserve their point, it may be even more difficult for Germany to create chances than it was against Belgium. Certainly, Joachim Loew’s side will have to be at their best in order to maintain a perfect qualifying record.
Minnows No More?
There once was a time when Azerbaijan would have been expected to lose heavily to a team like Germany. That time passed long ago. The young nation, which only became an independent state in 1991, has in recent years progressed to the position of 105 in the FIFA World Rankings.
It’s not a particularly high position, but Azerbaijan have only lost one of their last seven matches—including a World Cup qualifier with Russia—which is cause for respect.
Since taking over as head coach in 2008, Berti Vogts has significantly improved Azerbaijan’s standing in the world, and while qualification for a major tournament is still a pipe dream, a continuation of progress into the top 100 teams on the planet would be a major achievement.
While Klose was modest in his estimation of Germany’s success against Azerbaijan in World Cup qualifiers, the fact remains that die Mannschaft managed to score within a quarter hour in both legs. Falling behind early is a huge blow to an underdog team, and Azerbaijan will have to be particularly careful in defence, lest they be embarrassed.
To his benefit, Vogts, who coached Germany from 1990 to 1998, is very much familiar with the German game, and could have a few tricks up his sleeve. With typical reserve, however, he set the bar low. After hailing Germany as “the best team in the world” in an interview with Taz, Vogts claimed that his goal on Tuesday is “not to lose by very much.”
Still, Azerbaijan do have a chance to take something from their upcoming match. The grandest stage is always cause for motivation, and the visitors will not have the burden of expectations. Given a point to defend at the opening kick-off, they just might be able to defend it successfully.
Marcell Jansen, who started at left back against Belgium, has been forced to withdraw from Loew’s squad after sustaining a knee injury. Heiko Westermann was his stand-in during the second half of the Belgium match, and should keep his role. Loew also might be keen to make a tactical change after Lukas Podolski’s disappointing showing on Friday. Toni Kroos replaced the Koeln attacker in the last match, and might be given a starting berth on Tuesday.
Probable Starting XI: Neuer – Lahm, Mertesacker, Badstuber, Westermann – Khedira, Schweinsteiger – Mueller, Oezil, Podolski – Klose
Berti Vogts will send his side to Koeln with a decidedly defensive approach. Elvin Mammadov, who plays a conservative role at Qarabag, is expected to start in a more attacking position than usual, in Vogts’ formal 4-5-1 formation. That 4-5-1 will likely involve little gap between defence and midfield, and a fair bit of space between midfield and lone striker Rauf Aliyev.
Probable Starting XI: Agajew – Medwedev, R.F. Sadygov, Yunisoglu, Allahwerdiyev – R.A. Sadygov, Schukurov, Mammadov, Fabio Luis, Tschertoganov – Aliyev