The German team has meanwhile spent two days and two nights in their wellness hotel, which guarantees exclusive seclusion from the rest of the world during the World Cup. According to the inmates, it didn’t take long to get used to it. One feels comfortable in the five-star accommodation and all the more comfortable in the knowledge that the capital Doha, which is served 24 hours a day by large-engined off-road vehicles, is far away.
When the quartermaster Oliver Bierhoff praises the new home according to the motto home-sweet-home (“we found it really great”, “warm hosts”, “great ambience”), caution is called for – he did similar things four years ago also talks about the quarter in the Moscow suburb of Vatutinki, which is actually not at all homely. But the fact that the Germans can reside peacefully here at the northern tip of the peninsula in a maritime and comparatively pleasant climate does not need to be suspiciously questioned.
The star of the travel arrangement is undoubtedly the training ground of the local sports club. It lies behind the high walls of a towered and crenellated castle, fashioned after the Norman model, presumably in the workshop of Phantasialand. The facility is the perfect fortress against industrial espionage by foreign football powers and secretly positioned telephoto lenses from the photo press. You don’t need pitch and brimstone or armed archers to defend against unauthorized persons, you just have to close the gates (unfortunately there is no drawbridge with a corresponding ditch). There is no need to fear the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, the deployment of drones is prohibited under Qatari regulations.
The German team resides in Qatar in almost maritime conditions
As bizarre as the red citadel on Al-Shamal Road enriches the desert landscape, in the end it only contains a training ground. The German players came together there on Saturday morning for the first practice session on Qatari World Cup soil, but of all things without the player nicknamed “Lücke”. Niclas Füllkrug, 29, is plagued by a viral infection. So far, at best, Bremen’s local press has been interested in Füllkrug’s infections, but recently – and even more so since his winning goal in the friendly in Oman – the Werder center forward’s health is a matter of national importance. The doctors looked “from hour to hour how he is doing,” Bierhoff said a worrying sentence.
But it doesn’t seem to be that bad for the designated new national goalscorer. Team doctor Tim Meier found that Füllkrug’s condition was “not that dramatic” and he does not see a possible participation in the opening game against Japan at risk on Wednesday.
With the arrival of the matchday minus four, the preparation for the start of the tournament takes shape. The day after arriving in Qatar, Hansi Flick decided to rest, on Saturday afternoon he called for the next training session. Antonio Rüdiger and Thomas Müller also stood on the well-tended lawn, dispelling any doubts about their ability to play. Rüdiger, declared “defense chief” by Hansi Flick, should have his place in the starting eleven. Müller may have to be patient.
The political debates that accompany the tournament still take up a lot of space in the German World Cup discourse and in the DFB’s public relations work. But when Manuel Neuer and Youssoufa Moukoko sat on the press podium on Saturday, one the oldest player in the squad, the other the youngest, sport and everyday issues moved closer to the center of the conversation.
Captain Neuer confirmed his intention, despite threatening gestures from Fifa headquarters, to put on the armband, which is intended to set an example for social diversity. Why not, he objected: He knew about “the support of the DFB” and was convinced of the point of the matter, because the captains of other associations would also join the symbolic action: “It’s good that we have the power with other nations in western Europe and not alone.”
First of all, however, it was about a birthday that the national team had never celebrated at any tournament before. It has never happened that a player has come of age in the World Cup quarters. On the occasion of Moukoko’s 18th birthday, Neuer remembered how he spent the big day: “I was in Gelsenkirchen-Buer, invited my friends and we went bowling.” The latter, he added, “might get tricky here”.
There is no bowling alley in the chic resort, at most there is a table tennis tournament. Moukoko gets a serenade and a cake – “low in calories”, as Bierhoff emphasized. Moukoko thanked him in advance and emphasized – last chance – that it was “not so natural to be here at the age of 17”. But the Dortmund attacker believes he wasn’t just invited as an apprentice: “A striker is there to score goals.”
While every game is fundamentally the most important game in football, the opening game in a tournament is considered one of the most important. You can get into a positive flow like in 2014 (4-0 against Portugal) or in a fatal whirlpool like in 2018 (0-1 against Mexico), says Neuer. His motto for Wednesday: “Clean passing game, good positioning, keep calm.” The goal is to continue training in the Normannenburg for a very long time.