Joachim Low insisted it was not the right time to discuss possible recalls for Thomas Muller and Mats Hummels in the aftermath of Germany's shock 2-1 loss to North Macedonia.

Eljif Elmas scored late on in Duisburg - Ilkay Gundogan having earlier cancelled out Goran Pandev's opener from the penalty spot - to inflict a first World Cup qualifying defeat on Germany since September 2001 - a run spanning 35 matches.

The defeat leaves Die Mannschaft third in Group J, level on points with North Macedonia and three points behind pacesetters Armenia, who have won all three matches so far.

Speaking to RTL after the game, Bayern Munich honorary president Uli Hoeness suggested Low - who has announced he will end his tenure as head coach after Euro 2020 - should bring Muller and Hummels back into the national team.

The duo, as well as Bayern defender Jerome Boateng, have not played for their country since November 2018, but Low recently hinted each player remains in his plans for this year's tournament.

"Hummels is a player with strong aerial ability and someone who has a lot of experience," Hoeness said. "He can definitely give this team something.

"Muller also definitely belongs in the squad. He's always good for goals and can help any team in the world in certain situations."

But when asked again about those absent players after the North Macedonia game, Low told RTL: "This question cannot be answered now. The decision will be made in May. It is something to think about in the next few days and weeks."

The defeat for Germany was just their third ever in World Cup qualifying and leaves them with work to do when they resume their campaign in September.

There may well have been a different outcome on Wednesday had Timo Werner made more of a glorious chance that fell his way five minutes before Elmas' winner, the substitute forward dragging wide in a one-on-on opportunity.

"He has to score that, no question about it," Low said of Werner's late miss, coming from the Chelsea attacker's only touch of the ball in the opposition penalty area.

"He doesn't hit the ball properly, otherwise it's a goal. Timo blames himself the most. That was a bad moment in a period in which we were on top in the game."

Low had previously criticised his players for their profligacy in the 1-0 win over Romania on Sunday, which followed on from a 3-0 victory at home to Iceland.

Germany had 11 shots against North Macedonia but tested visiting goalkeeper Stole Dimitrievski with just two of those, with Serge Gnabry - the match-winner against Romania last time out - wasting two chances of his own in the first half.

"There is no magic formula," Low said. "You can train all you want, but it is difference in a competitive match. We were too hesitant to finish.

"We weren't consistent. With the score at 1-1, Timo had that huge chance. We have to look back at the chances and talk about it."

Gundogan had drawn Germany on level terms but his side were caught out at the back for a second time for the winning goal.

"The fact is, that should not be happening," Gundogan said. "It felt like they were in front of our goal twice and scored twice - it was too easy for them.

"We had many chances and only scored one goal. We didn't defend well with either goal - twice they had a man in the middle completely free.

"I leave with a bad feeling. It hurts all the more that we won't play again for three months. We have to get in top form by the end of May and prepare for the Euros."

Germany dropped their first points in World Cup 2022 qualifying as they suffered a shock 2-1 loss at home to North Macedonia on Wednesday.

Joachim Low's side had defeated Iceland and Romania in their first two Group J games without conceding, but they were stunned in Duisburg by Eljif Elmas' late goal.

Veteran forward Goran Pandev had earlier given North Macedonia a half-time lead, which Ilkay Gundogan cancelled out with a contentious penalty for Ezgjan Alioski's challenge on Leroy Sane.

But Germany, ranked 52 places above their opponents in the FIFA rankings, saw substitute Timo Werner miss a glorious chance shortly before Elmas converted Arijan Ademi's cutback to snatch a famous win for the visitors.

Germany head coach Joachim Low has batted away talk of "world-class" Toni Kroos retiring from international football after this year's European Championship.

Real Madrid midfielder Kroos withdrew from the Germany squad at the start of last week, ahead of their opening World Cup qualifying fixtures.

Low's side claimed maximum points from their first two Group J games against Iceland and Romania and will expect to make it a hat-trick of triumphs when North Macedonia visit Duisburg on Wednesday.

Kroos is Die Mannschaft's most-capped active player – and joint 10th overall – having featured 101 times since his Germany debut in 2010.

His last appearance was in November's humiliating 6-0 Nations League defeat to Spain, although he did emerge with some credit.

Kroos enjoyed a pass completion rate of 97.7 per cent – the highest of any starting player across both sides – while no German starter lost possession fewer times than him (four).

Reports have circulated recently that 31-year-old Kroos is ready to call time on his international career after the rearranged Euro 2020 finals, but Low is not ready to write off the midfielder just yet.

"It's a media issue," Low told a media conference. "Toni is a world-class player with an enormous wealth of experience. We won't start to doubt his quality now."

Low also hailed the "step forward" made by Leroy Sane over the past week.

The Bayern Munich forward made three key passes against Romania – matched only by Serge Gnabry for Germany – and won 11 of his 12 duels.

Low was particularly impressed with the 25-year-old's defensive contributions.

"In the last two games Leroy had extremely good moments in defence," Low said. "He won four or five balls against Romania and some against Iceland.

"You haven't seen that before. He made a clear step forward."

Germany are red-hot favourites to progress to Qatar 2022 as Group J winners, but Low has warned his players against complacency when they host North Macedonia.

"I have the feeling that North Macedonia have rolled up their sleeves", said Low, who will step down from his position at the end of Euro 2020. "They are no worse than Romania. It will be a real show of strength.

"We're not taking anything for granted. North Macedonia are shrewd opponents. It will be another tricky task to come away with all three points."

Ilkay Gundogan would welcome the appointment of Pep Guardiola as Joachim Low's successor should the Manchester City manager become available.

Low announced earlier this month that he will leave his role with the national side after the delayed European Championship finals, which are scheduled to begin in June.

A number of high-profile names have been linked with the soon-to-be vacant position, with City boss Guardiola deemed to be an outside contender for the job.

Gundogan has spent the past five seasons playing under the Catalan at the Etihad Stadium and is enjoying the best campaign of his career in terms of goal involvements.

While the ex-Borussia Dortmund midfielder would like to work with Guardiola at international level, he accepts that is unlikely to be possible anytime soon.

"I would personally hire him instantly but I think that would be difficult as he is not currently available," he said at a news conference on Tuesday.

"I also don't know if I would like to be without him at City. Besides, I owe a lot to Joachim and I want him to leave on a high."

City remain on course for a quadruple this campaign in what will be all-time leading goalscorer Sergio Aguero's last at the club.

The Argentina international confirmed on Monday he will be leaving at the end of the season and Gundogan is hopeful his team-mate can bow out on a high.

"He has done incredible things and contributed a lot to us being where we are now," he said. "We still have him for a few weeks and hopefully we can see him off with some success."

Aguero has already won the Premier League four times during his decade with City, the most memorable being the first of those in 2011-12.

He scored a dramatic winner against QPR on the final day to ensure City finished above Manchester United, a moment that still lives with Gundogan, who was with Dortmund at the time.

"I still get goosebumps when I see his legendary goal with original commentary," Gundogan added.

Gundogan's focus for now is on Wednesday's World Cup 2022 qualifier against North Macedonia as Germany aim to make it three wins from three in Group J.

The 30-year-old played the entirety of the victories over Iceland and Romania, but he is not taking his place in the side for granted ahead of Euro 2020.

"We have a number of top-class players here," he said. "It is very good for us to have that level of competition. Now it is down to the coach to distribute the right tasks.

"I want to play and I'm confident that I should be playing. I had a similar feeling in 2018 but only played one half against Sweden [at the World Cup].

"I've always felt I deserved to play, but you have to accept the decisions of others."

Low confirmed on Tuesday that Gundogan is in contention to skipper Germany at the MSV-Arena in Duisburg with regular captain Manuel Neuer being rested for the match.

Germany head coach Joachim Low bemoaned his side's wastefulness in front of goal during their slender 1-0 World Cup qualifying win against Romania on Sunday.

Serge Gnabry scored the only goal of the game in the 16th minute, with the Bayern Munich forward, Leroy Sane and Timo Werner going on to squander opportunities to extend Die Mannschaft's advantage.

That almost came back to haunt Germany in the closing stages as the hosts went close through George Puscas and Nicolae Stanciu. 

Germany – the 2014 world champions – ultimately held on, though, to follow up Thursday's opening Group J win over Iceland with another three points. 

Low was largely pleased with Germany's display, but acknowledged they should have added to Gnabry's early goal.

"Romania were definitely the better team than Iceland in terms of football," he said. "We worked very well against the ball today and won some battles. 

"We could have made the game easier for ourselves if we had made it 2-0. If there's something to complain about, it's the big opportunities.

"The goalkeeper saved very well several times, but we could have been ice cold and more concentrated in front of goal.

"When the opponent has nothing more to lose, they throw everything forward. We had several chances in which we could have finished more cleanly, but we have three points."

Germany made just one substitution before stoppage time – Werner replacing Kai Havertz in the 77th minute – and Low said he stuck with his starting XI for so long as the game was under control. 

"It's important to get used to it," he added. "But I didn't switch because the game was under control for a long time. 

"We were doing well, the midfield did a good job. The opponent had no chances for a long time, so it wasn't absolutely necessary for a long time."

Joshua Kimmich, who struck the crossbar in the first half with a deflected half-volley, agreed with Low's assessment that Germany made life unnecessarily difficult for themselves. 

The Bayern Munich midfielder said: "We could have made it easier for ourselves. We were lucky that Romania didn't equalise in the 90th minute; that would've been karma for us not scoring again.

"We have to score earlier then we will have a quieter evening. I think we largely controlled the game, but still we didn't manage to decide it earlier."

Germany will be looking to make it three wins from three Group J games when they host North Macedonia on Wednesday. 

Germany made it two wins from two in World Cup qualifying as Serge Gnabry's first-half goal sealed a 1-0 win over Romania on Sunday. 

Joachim Low's side opened their Group J campaign with a 3-0 win at home to Iceland on Thursday and they put in another dominant display at the National Arena to swat aside Mirel Radoi's men.  

Die Mannschaft had 18 shots to the hosts' nine, but they were limited to just a solitary goal, the impressive Gnabry securing maximum points with a close-range finish after 16 minutes. 

The result means Germany are top of Group J on six points, ahead of Armenia on goal difference, and three points clear of Romania and North Macedonia.

6 points from 6 #DieMannschaft #ROUGER pic.twitter.com/6bawjdLQGO

— Germany (@DFB_Team_EN) March 28, 2021

Kai Havertz and Valentin Mihaila exchanged chances in the early stages, before Gnabry put Germany ahead.

Havertz surged into the penalty area and slid an inviting ball across goal, which the Bayern Munich forward easily slotted home from eight yards.

Joshua Kimmich then thundered against the crossbar from distance, with Florin Nita keeping out Gnabry's follow-up effort as Germany ultimately failed to add to their advantage.

Nita pawed away a fierce Leon Goretzka drive shortly after the restart, while the Romania goalkeeper got down well to deny Gnabry a superb solo goal before the hour mark. 

Leroy Sane and Timo Werner missed presentable opportunities inside the final half-hour, while George Puscas tested Manuel Neuer late on as Germany secured another three points on what is shaping up to be a smooth progression to Qatar 2022. 

 

Germany head coach Joachim Low admits he is not completely satisfied with his side with just three months to go until the delayed European Championship finals.

Die Mannschaft cruised to a 3-0 win over Iceland in their opening World Cup 2022 qualifier on Thursday through goals from Leon Goretzka, Kai Havertz and Ilkay Gundogan.

It was a welcome win for Low's men, coming on the back of a 6-0 hammering against Spain in their final match of a poor 2020 that saw them win only three of their eight games.

Germany had 81.5 per cent of the ball, attempted 1,053 passes and had 15 shots compared to Iceland's eight, but Low feels there is plenty of room for improvement.

"I wasn't exactly full of praise for the whole game," he said at a news conference on Saturday previewing the trip to Romania.

"We could have done better in the second half in particular. If we look to the Euros, we have to improve in a few areas. 

"It was a good start and we had a lot of well implemented play. But I'm not yet completely satisfied."

Without the influential Toni Kroos, who withdrew from the squad with a knock, Germany's midfield three of Gundogan, Goretzka and Joshua Kimmich impressed against Iceland.

Jamal Musiala made his debut as a second-half substitute in Duisburg, while Borussia Monchengladbach's highly-rated Florian Neuhaus was also introduced for his fourth cap.

But Low insists Kroos, who remains a regular for Real Madrid, is still integral to his plans.

"The midfield set the tone against Iceland, everyone in their own way. I'm happy about that. But Kroos is a player with immense value to us," said Low, who will end his 15-year tenure after Euro 2020.

"Our strength at major tournaments has been players coming off the bench. We have good players in midfield - any team who wants to achieve something needs that."

Germany's win over Iceland was their 17th in a row in World Cup qualifying, setting a new record and placing them top of Group J ahead of Sunday's trip to Romania.

Niklas Sule has been ruled out of both that match and Wednesday's visit of North Macedonia, while Robin Gosens is also out and Goretzka and Leroy Sane are carrying knocks.

Low does not intend to make many changes ​for the showdown at the National Arena as Germany seek back-to-back competitive wins for the first time since November 2019.

"I'm going to wait until tomorrow to see how things develop with Leon," Low said. "He is the first option in midfield and I hope he can play from the start.

"If he doesn't then it is possible to let Musiala play, or move Serge Gnabry deeper and bring in Timo Werner. Our usual defensive line will start."

Romania kicked off their qualifying campaign with a 3-2 home win against North Macedonia to make it four games without defeat, scoring 12 goals across those fixtures.

And Low expects to face an attack-minded side in Bucharest.

"They have great strengths on the attack and act much more aggressively than Iceland," he said. "We will face completely different challenges.

"I've seen Romania one time or another and we have a lot of information on them. 

"They have technically well-trained players who want the ball. They don't want to defend so much, but they want to play forward. I think Romania's central midfield is very good."

Barcelona legend Xavi has endorsed "luxury coach" Joachim Low for the Barcelona job once he steps down as Germany boss later this year.

Low announced earlier this month that he will leave his role with the national side after the delayed European Championship finals, which are scheduled to begin in June.

The 61-year-old has been in charge since 2006 and guided his country to World Cup success in 2014, as well as winning the Confederations Cup three years later.

He revealed earlier this week he has been learning Spanish, only strengthening rumours he is in contention to take over at either Real Madrid or Barcelona at some point.

And Xavi, who is also regularly linked to the head coach position at former club Barca, believes Low would be a good fit at Camp Nou.

"He is a luxury coach," Xavi told Suddeutsche Zeitung. "He wants sparkle and attacking football, and he is a world champion.

"Low has helped Germany develop a different understanding of football that reminds me a lot of what I know from Spain and Barcelona."

Asked more specifically why Low would suit Barcelona, Xavi said: "Because of his way of understanding the game. And because of his personality."

Low's contract with the German Football Association was originally due to run until the 2022 World Cup, but he requested to leave his position early on the back of a disappointing 2020.

Germany won only three of their eight matches last year, which culminated in a 6-0 Nations League loss to Spain - their heaviest defeat since losing to Austria in a friendly in 1931 by the same scoreline.

Xavi, who was overtaken by Lionel Messi last week in the list of all-time appearances for Barcelona, feels it is the natural time for Low to seek pastures new. 

"With such a period of time, wear and tear is inevitable," he added. "That might be the case now."

Germany's youthful side were in slick form against Iceland but outgoing head coach Joachim Low expects more from their next two World Cup qualifiers.

Iceland proved no match for Low's side on Thursday, with early goals from Leon Goretzka and Kai Havertz paving the way for a comfortable triumph before Ilkay Gundogan rounded out a 3-0 success.

Led by the imperious Joshua Kimmich, Germany dominated throughout.

They had 81.5 per cent possession, attempted 1,053 passes – at an accuracy of 92.3 per cent – and had 15 shots compared to Iceland's eight, with Manuel Neuer only called into action twice.

From his position at the base of midfield, versatile Bayern Munich star Kimmich controlled proceedings, tallying up 176 touches, 150 successful passes and a team-high three crosses, one of which should have resulted in a goal for Antonio Rudiger.

Only Gundogan (four) played more key passes than Kimmich, who was integral to Germany's first two goals, playing sublime balls into Serge Gnabry and Leroy Sane as the hosts took a 2-0 lead by the seventh minute – the first time they have led by two goals that early in a competitive fixture since May 1969.

It marked a 17th successive win for Germany in World Cup qualifiers, a new team record.

But Low was not entirely pleased with Germany's display, telling RTL: "In the second half, we played too many passes backwards and missed some moments to trigger momentum and pick up speed.

"I see opportunities for improvement in our game. What made us strong in the first half – a lot of movement without the ball, a lot of deep runs – that wasn't quite the case in the second half.

"We have to see that we keep up the pace and can last for over 90 minutes. That will be important at the Euros."

Despite Low's concerns, Germany did much of their passing in Iceland's half.

Indeed, only Havertz (31), Gnabry and Lukas Klostermann (both 28) among the hosts' outfield starters attempted fewer passes in Iceland's half than Aron Gunnarsson – who led the distribution metrics for the visitors – managed in all areas of the field (33, only 22 of which were successful).

Low, who is departing after the Euros, has received criticism in some quarters following a difficult 2020, and for his decision to ostracise 2014 World Cup winners Thomas Muller, Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng.

The 61-year-old has hinted the door could be open for the trio to return at the rearranged tournament, though for now he is sticking with youth, handing Jamal Musiala – who would also have been eligible for England – his debut late on.

Aged 18 years and 27 days, the Bayern attacker is the youngest Germany player since Uwe Seeler in October 1954.

"For the most part, I'm satisfied," Low said.

"We started very energetically and dynamically, we wanted to set an example. The team has the right attitude right from the start."

Germany made a comfortable start to their World Cup qualifying campaign as early goals from Leon Goretzka and Kai Havertz paved the way for a 3-0 win over Iceland.

News of Joachim Low's upcoming departure after the Euros dominated the build-up to Germany's Group J opener, though a vibrant performance proved the quality the outgoing boss has at his disposal heading into his final tournament.

Goretzka and Havertz had Germany 2-0 up after just seven minutes – the quickest Die Mannschaft have been two goals ahead in a competitive match since May 1969, when Gerd Muller and Wolfang Overath struck against Cyprus.

In-form Ilkay Gundogan arrowed in his 13th goal of 2021 for club and country midway through the second half, wrapping up a convincing triumph.

A 6-0 defeat to Spain rounded off a frustrating 2020 for Germany, but they made a fantastic start to 2021. Iceland had only touched the ball twice by the time Goretzka drilled home the opener from the centre of the area – Serge Gnabry having cushioned Joshua Kimmich's lofted pass into the midfielder's path.

Kimmich was the architect of Germany's second goal five minutes later with a wonderful throughball to release Leroy Sane, who squared for Havertz to finish coolly.

Germany's lead seemed set to be halved when Runar Mar Sigurjonsson's shot took a wicked deflection off Antonio Rudiger but the ball dropped inches wide.

Kimmich should have had an assist to his name prior to half-time, only for Rudiger to head wide from the midfielder's inch-perfect cross.

Aron Gunnarsson could have done better with a free header shortly after the interval, and any lingering Iceland hopes were swiftly dashed when Gundogan found the bottom-left corner.

Havertz had a goal disallowed for offside and Gnabry hit the post after latching onto another sublime Kimmich pass, but there was no further punishment for new Iceland coach Arnar Vidarsson.

A Germany player has tested positive for COVID-19 ahead of their World Cup qualifying clash with Iceland on Thursday. 

The individual - whose identity has not been revealed - did not have any symptoms and was immediately sent into isolation, the German Football Association (DFB) confirmed. 

Germany's bid to reach the 2022 World Cup kicks off against Iceland in Duisburg, followed by clashes with Romania and North Macedonia on Sunday and Wednesday respectively.  

A statement from the DFB read: "The strict hygiene concept of the DFB is aimed at avoiding category 1 contacts. The measures that are being implemented include the permanent wearing of FFP2 masks, except when eating at the table.  

"[Also] Staying in closed rooms in fixed, narrow time windows, keeping a distance in all functional rooms in the hotel, using two team buses and several vans for trips to the training ground, as well as close-knit testing.

"Since the meeting of the national team on Monday, two PCR and one antigen rapid tests have taken place in the team hotel." 

National team director Oliver Bierhoff added: "Of course, this news is bitter so shortly before the game – for the coach and the entire team. 

"But we are confident that this will remain the case, as we have taken all hygiene measures so far and have been very disciplined. Of course, we will implement all the requirements of the authorities."

 

Germany head coach Joachim Low has revealed he is planning to learn Spanish in the future but insisted he does not have a club job in LaLiga lined up.

Low will step down as Germany boss after this year's European Championships after the German Football Association (DFB) agreed to his request to leave the position early.

His contract originally ran to the 2022 World Cup but Low will instead depart after the rescheduled Euro 2020 tournament which starts in June this year.

The 61-year-old has been at the helm since 2006 when he replaced Jurgen Klinsmann and guided his country to World Cup success in 2014.

Speaking at a media conference on Wednesday ahead of World Cup qualifiers with Iceland, Romania and North Macedonia, Low quashed talk of a job in Spanish football.

"I was thinking about it a little while ago. But this hasn't anything to do with a club," Low said.

"You could use Spanish in the whole world. In South America, Europe and the USA you could always use it. After English, it is a very important language. 

"I like the language and wanted to learn it at some point. Maybe I will have the chance to deepen that in the future. But that hasn't anything to do with a Spanish club, it is a useful language to know, though."

Low has taken charge of 189 games for Germany and overseen 120 wins, 38 draws and 31 defeats with a win percentage of 63.49.

The build-up to the Thursday's clash with Iceland in Duisburg has been dominated by talk of who will succeed Low, but midfielder Emre Can insisted the players have not been distracted.

"I think for us players it's almost irrelevant. It's more a topic for the media," Can said.

"Football players are always under pressure when we play for the national team and participate at tournaments. It doesn't matter if there is debate around the coach or not. 

"The coach has made his decision and for sure he is highly motivated for the European Championships, obviously we want to play a successful European Championships for his farewell."

Hansi Flick, who won a remarkable sextuple in his first year as Bayern Munich's head coach, has been mooted as the DFB's preferred successor to Low.

The 56-year-old was Low's assistant coach for almost eight years, from August 2006 to July 2014, leaving his role after Germany's World Cup triumph.

Bayern have been the form side in Europe in Flick's time in charge, and despite a shock exit in the DFB-Pokal earlier this season, are still well in the hunt for a Bundesliga and Champions League double.

However, Bayern and Germany midfielder Joshua Kimmich does not expect his club boss to instead become his national team manager.

"Hansi Flick has a contract and we are incredibly successful here," Kimmich told Bild. "That's why I do not assume that he will."

The international break might bring respite from the packed club calendar, but with Qatar 2022 now just 20 months away, top players have little chance for rest.

Still, the start of the European World Cup qualifiers brings an opportunity for the new names on the international scene to impress, particularly with more established stars unlikely to be involved in every minute of matches over these two weeks.

Several of the continent's top teams have offered first-time call-ups to those enjoying fine form and, while some were anticipated, others have left even the players themselves surprised.

We have picked through a selection of the new faces to look out for, with a sprinkling of Opta data to highlight why they deserve a chance to impress for their country.

 

Belgium: Orel Mangala and Albert Sambi Lokonga

Stuttgart's Orel Mangala has been linked with Arsenal and RB Leipzig due to his performances for Stuttgart this season. Only three midfielders have regained possession more often in the Bundesliga than the 23-year-old (166).

Also hoping to make his senior Belgium debut at the heart of midfield is Albert Sambi Lokonga, who assumed the captain's armband at Anderlecht less than a month after turning 21.

Lokonga, who could get a chance in place of the injured Axel Witsel, has regained possession 35 more times than any team-mate this season (157) and is also fourth for chances created (22).

Croatia: Kristijan Lovric

With Ante Rebic and Bruno Petkovic injured, the coming matches could offer a real chance to impress for Kristijan Lovric.

The HNK Gorica star is second in the top scorer standings in Croatia's top flight, with 15 goals in 24 appearances. With four assists also to his name, Lovric is behind only Tottenham's Europa League slayer Mislav Orsic and Ramon Mierez (both on 20) for direct goal involvements this season.

It's a seriously impressive return for the 25-year-old, particularly as he plays predominantly wide on the left of the Gorica attack.

England: Ollie Watkins

West Brom goalkeeper Sam Johnstone may get the chance to win a first senior England cap, but a man almost certain to be given a chance in attack is Ollie Watkins.

The Aston Villa forward became the 10th Premier League player to score a hat-trick against Liverpool, and the first in a decade, in October's extraordinary 7-2 win over the reigning champions.

He has 10 in the top flight this term, while only captain Jack Grealish (17) has had more direct goal involvements than Watkins (15) in all competitions for Villa this season. Not bad for a man who was playing in England's sixth tier just six years ago.

 

Germany: Florian Wirtz and Jamal Musiala

Rising Bayern Munich star Jamal Musiala was expected to be named in Joachim Low's squad after he pledged his international future to Germany rather than England.

The 18-year-old, who only signed his first professional contract this month, is Bayern's youngest ever Champions League goalscorer and has already played 18 times in the Bundesliga this season.

Bayer Leverkusen's Florian Wirtz has also earned the right to shine on the senior stage. He is one of just two players under the age of 20 to be directly involved in at least eight goals across the top-five European leagues this season.

Italy: Rafael Toloi and Matteo Ricci

Brazilian-born Rafael Toloi has made it to the age of 30 without a senior international appearance, but his performances for Gian Piero Gasperini's outstanding Atalanta side made him hard to overlook.

Toloi averages seven possession regains per match for Atalanta this season and is comfortable when using the ball, completing 493 passes in the opposition half, the most of any Atalanta defender barring Berat Djimsiti.

Spezia midfielder Matteo Ricci, meanwhile, boasts 19 chances created in Serie A this season as well as 151 times winning back the ball, by far the highest tally for his team.

Netherlands: Jeremiah St Juste

Jeremiah St Juste has impressed at the back for Mainz this season, despite their involvement in a tense battle to avoid the drop.

There are only five Bundesliga defenders to win more tackles and duels combined than the 24-year-old this season (he has managed 165).

Previously a full-back with Feyenoord, St Juste brings a vital commodity to modern central defending: speed. Last season, he clocked a sprint of 22.1 miles per hour, bettered only at the time by Bayern winger Kingsley Coman.

Poland: Kacper Kozlowski

A relative unknown outside Poland, even Kacper Kozlowski himself was shocked to be called up to Paulo Sousa's squad this month.

Clearly, though, he has caught the eye for some all-action displays in the top flight for Pogon Szczecin. The 17-year-old averages 8.3 duels won and 17 passes ending in the final third per 90 minutes, each the most of any teenage midfielder in the competition.

Kozlowski, who is also renowned for a fierce long-range shot, has been linked with some of the world's biggest clubs since making his senior debut at just 15, with Manchester United said to be among them.

 

Portugal: Joao Palhinha and Nuno Mendes

Linked with Manchester City (among others), Sporting CP full-back Nuno Mendes has been described as the standout young talent in Portugal's top flight.

Only Wilson Manafa (49) has completed more dribbles among defenders this season than Mendes (29), who has played in all but four of the unbeaten leaders' league matches.

The 18-year-old is joined in the Portugal squad by team-mate Joao Palhinha, a robust midfielder who has won 208 duels in the Primeira Liga in 2020-21 – no player in his position has won more.

Spain: Bryan Gil and Pedri

Pedri has been a revelation for Barcelona in his first season at Camp Nou, establishing himself as a key part of Ronald Koeman's midfield despite only turning 18 last November.

He has played 42 times already in 2020-21, the most of anyone at the club, and became the youngest player to record 100 touches in a single LaLiga game for at least 15 years against Osasuna this month.

Bryan Gil, meanwhile, has been thriving on loan at Eibar from Sevilla and in January became the second player born this century to score twice in the same LaLiga match, following in the footsteps of Ansu Fati.

 

Real Madrid midfielder Toni Kroos has withdrawn from the Germany squad for their upcoming fixtures because of an adductor injury.

The 31-year-old linked up with his national side on Monday for the World Cup qualifiers with Iceland, Romania and North Macedonia.

However, Germany confirmed on Tuesday that Kroos has returned to Madrid as a precautionary measure and will play no part in any of their games over the next eight days.

"Our medical department has examined and treated Toni intensively," said head coach Joachim Low, who will step down from his position at the end of the rescheduled Euro 2020 tournament.

"He would have liked to stay with us, and I am reluctant to be without him. But with a view to the Euros, we decided that the full recovery from this injury must be a priority."

Kroos earned his 100th cap for Germany in October's 3-3 draw with Switzerland and has featured 35 times in all competitions for Madrid this season.

He previously missed two games earlier this season with a gluteal injury, seeing him play no part in the league wins over Real Valladolid and Levante.

Germany are also without Niklas Sule and Robin Gosens for Thursday's clash with Iceland in Duisburg, the pair unavailable with thigh and muscular problems respectively.

The build-up to the match has been dominated by talk of who will succeed Low as the next Germany head coach, but Manuel Neuer insists it will be business as usual on the field.

"We had a short team meeting and are concentrating on our tasks," he said. "We have to be well prepared for the European Championship and will use every game to do that.

"We cannot make any more mistakes. We have a strong group, against some strong opponents, so every game is a final from the start.

"Of course now we want to crown this era with a success. The coach deserves that to end with a success after the successful years.

"He is is very motivated and ambitious. It's not that he thinks he's going to retire. He's enthusiastic. He wants to quit as national coach as successfully as possible."

Under-21s boss Stefan Kuntz is among the frontrunners to replace Low, who has been at the helm since 2006 and guided his country to World Cup success in 2014.

Ralf Rangnick and Hansi Flick, who manages Neuer at club level with Bayern, are also in the running, while Jurgen Klopp and Julian Nagelsmann have distanced themselves.

Asked about the candidates for one of the top jobs in football, Neuer said: "A national coach must have experience and must have done one or the other in German football. 

"He should know the Bundesliga. It's not about what we think, but about the goals that we have in front of us."

Germany team director Oliver Bierhoff had no issue with Karl-Heinz Rummenigge's comments on Hansi Flick's future, insisting the DFB would not have approached the coach while he remained at Bayern Munich.

The 2014 world champions are searching for a new coach to succeed Joachim Low, who will leave his role after the Euro 2020 finals later this year.

Flick, Low's former assistant, was predictably mooted as a potential replacement having enjoyed great success as Bayern boss.

The Bavarian giants won the treble last season and have already added the Club World Cup title in 2020-21, while defences of their Bundesliga and Champions League crowns remain on track.

Flick, who turned Bayern's fortunes around, is under contract until 2023, although club CEO Rummenigge will depart at the end of the year.

That will not spell the end of Flick's tenure, though, Rummenigge insisted last week, saying: "We are well advised to finish what we have agreed in the contract."

But this does not clash with Germany's plans either, as Bierhoff says the new man will not be poached from another job. Ralf Rangnick, who turned down a role at Schalke, has been linked.

"Nothing has changed for us," the team director said on Monday. "We always said we won't approach a coach who is currently under contract.

"I interpreted it in the way that [Rummenigge] wanted to back Hansi Flick and he did. That is the right thing to do as CEO of a club."

Bierhoff was facing the media at the start of the first international break of 2021, with the clock now ticking on Germany's recruitment process.

"We don't have limitless time, but we are not under pressure either," he said. "We have to appoint a new coach for the time after the Euros. We are going to take our time.

"The DFB delegation will be in the team hotel in the coming days. President Fritz Keller, Peter Peters, Rainer Koch and Friedrich Curtius will be there and we will discuss the situation.

"Obviously we will analyse, discuss and have long talks, and then we'll see."

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