Germany on the brink as world champions seek to avoid embarrassing disaster

Mesut Ozil looked anything but the world-beater he can be during Germany's shock 1-0 defeat to Mexico.
Updated 22 June 2018
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Germany on the brink as world champions seek to avoid embarrassing disaster

  • Germany face Sweden in a must-not-lose clash.
  • After their 1-0 defeat to Mexico the world champions could exit the tournament if beaten by the Swedes.

LONDON: Earlier this week a Swedish journalist pranked Germany’s Sami Khedira by giving him a homemade return ticket from the World Cup for the entire squad. The midfielder took the joke in good spirit but should he and his teammates lose to Sweden tonight it will be no laughing matter.
The defending champions’ shock 1-0 defeat to Mexico last week was worrying not just because it now puts them under huge pressure in a tough group, but also for the manner of the loss.
They team looked bereft of ideas, old and, to be blunt, past it. Can they avoid the fate of Spain four years ago and not become a defending champion who exits at the group stage?
Here we look at what has gone wrong and how they can fix it.

MISSING MIDFIELDERS

That Mesut Ozil went missing during the match against Mexico will come as no surprise to anyone who has watched him play these past few months. But that Khedira and Toni Kroos also had poor games is a shock. Against the Mexicans the Germany midfield, for so long the driving force behind the team’s success, looked like they were running through treacle; their counterparts by sharp contrast were brimming with energy and ideas.
There was one moment which summed up the match for Germany; Carlos Vela was able to pick the ball up 10 yards outside his own box and simply run past the entire German midfield.
The story was no better when they had the ball, Kroos looked out of sorts and Ozil lacked any of the creative spark that once made him one of the best players in the world. “Ozil’s body language is like that of a dead frog, it’s pathetic,” Mario Basler, a Euro 96 winner with Die Mannschaft, told German television. If anything that is being a bit harsh on the dead frog.
Joachim Low needs to freshen things up against Sweden. Khedira should make way for Ilkay Gundogan or Leon Goretzka in central midfield and Marco Reus seems likely to come in, probably for Julian Draxler further forward.

DISHARMONY

The disconnect on the pitch against Mexico was alarming, and hinted at all not being well in the camp. The shock dropping of Leroy Sane (someone who could have injected some much-needed pace into the team) before the tournament was the move of a boss trying to wake up his players, worried they had become too complacent. The results coming into the tournament were proof of that — only one win since October. There have been reports of a no-holds-barred meeting in the camp this week. Apparently no punches were pulled during a crisis meeting between the players and Low. Manuel Neuer was honest enough to admit that he had never heard so many frank words exchanged during his nine years with the national team. “We didn’t mince words, because we want to make things better against Sweden,” the Germany goalkeeper said. “We talked a lot. We’re our harshest critics. It was a wake-up call — there has never been such strong words within the team.”

DEEP-SEATED PROBLEMS

It is clear that the malaise has been present in the side for a few months and not a sudden blip. Tonight we will see whether a few strong words are enough to turn things around for the world champions.
Sweden, as Italy found out in last year’s playoff, are tough to beat and tonight’s clash at the Fisht Stadium on the banks of the Black Sea could very well sink Germany’s hopes of not only getting out the group, but also every cliche about the side 
“being a well-oiled efficient machine,” on the evidence of this year, they are anything but.


Fognini tops Lajovic to claim Monte Carlo Masters

Updated 21 April 2019
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Fognini tops Lajovic to claim Monte Carlo Masters

  • Fabio Fognini defeated Dusan Lajovic 6-3, 6-4 in the Monte Carlo Masters final on Sunday
  • Fognini is only the fourth man to win the clay-court event since Nadal’s first of a record 11 wins in 2005

MONACO: Fabio Fognini won the biggest title of his career after beating Dusan Lajovic 6-3, 6-4 Sunday in the Monte Carlo Masters final.
The 13th-seeded Italian’s first title of the year was his ninth overall but first at Masters level.
It came the day after he stunned defending champion Rafael Nadal in straight sets, becoming the first player to beat Nadal here since Novak Djokovic in the 2015 semifinals.
“It has been an incredible week, I will keep working,” Fognini said. “I started the season badly so this is unbelievable.”
After going out in the third round of the Australian Open, Fognini had won only one match and lost six times before this tournament.
Playing here may have given him a boost, however, since he grew up in nearby San Remo — just over the Italian border and a short drive or train ride away along the glittering Mediterranean coast.
The 48th-ranked Lajovic’s run to his first career final was unexpected. But the unseeded Serb rarely threatened in humid, overcast and slightly windy conditions.
Fognini needed a medical timeout to receive treatment to his right foot and right thigh after the fifth game of the second set.
But it did not impede him as he served out the match, clinching victory on his second match point when Lajovic hit a forehand wide.
The players hugged warmly at the net.
The 31-year-old Fognini is only the fourth man to win the clay-court event since Nadal’s first of a record 11 wins in 2005. Djokovic, twice, and Stan Wawrinka also won.
The last Italian before Fognini was Nicola Pietrangeli in 1968.
The 85-year-old Pietrangeli, a two-time French Open winner, stood and applauded as Fognini dropped to his knees to kiss the surface.
Pietrangeli walked gingerly onto the court and the pair hugged. Pietrangeli posed alongside Fognini as he held the trophy
The match started evenly enough, but Fognini broke for a 4-2 lead when Lajovic made an unforced error on forehand. Fognini then held his serve with a typically flamboyant one-handed, cross-court backhand to take control.
Serving for the set, Fognini saved a break point with a forehand winner down the line, and then clinched it with an equally good backhand.
Fognini broke for a 3-2 lead in the second set when Lajovic hit a forehand wide.
After Fognini’s medical timeout, Lajovic missed an easy smash at 30-30 in the next game.
With that miss, his slim hopes faded.