Berlin: Joachim Loew’s resurgent Germany side face their first test without Manchester City winger Leroy Sane when they renew their rivalry with neighbours the Netherlands in Friday’s Euro 2020 qualifier in Hamburg.
Sane, 23, is one of several German players missing through injury, including Julian Draxler and Thilo Kehrer, after he tore knee ligaments during City’s Community Shield win over Liverpool last month.
The twinkle-toed winger has been a key part of the national team’s recovery from their World Cup debacle last year, scoring in five of Germany’s last six games.
Two of those goals have come against Friday’s opponents the Netherlands, who Germany have faced three times since last October in a resumption of one of international football’s biggest rivalries.
Yet Sane’s teammates insisted this week that they would be able to compensate for his absence.
“Leroy creates a lot of space and is very important for the team, but we have a lot of quality to replace him,” said Borussia Dortmund player Marco Reus on Wednesday.
Sane is expected to be replaced by in-form RB Leipzig striker Timo Werner, who is hoping to fight his way back into the Germany first team.
“Leroy’s unfortunate injury means there is a space in attack. I believe I can show the same performances here as I have for my club,” said Werner, who has scored five goals in three games for Leipzig this season.
Having twice failed to beat the Dutch in the Nations League last year, Germany’s 3-2 win in Amsterdam in March marked a change in fortunes and left them six points clear of their rivals in qualifying Group C.
Victory in Hamburg would therefore represent a huge step towards qualification, adding further spice to the cross-border derby.
“Games against the Netherlands are always big, iconic games. You stand on the pitch and think: ‘awesome’,” said Reus.
For the Dutch in particular, the location of Friday’s match is a fateful one.
It was in Hamburg that Marco Van Basten fired a late winner past West Germany to send the Netherlands into the final of the 1988 European Championships, where they won their only major title to date.
31 years later, the Dutch are under pressure after picking up just three points from their first two games.
They currently sit in Group C’s play-off spot, nine points behind leaders Northern Ireland, albeit with two games in hand.
Yet at a press conference on Monday, manager Ronald Koeman dismissed the notion that the match against Germany was a case of do-or-die for his team.
“The game against Germany is not crucial,” said Koeman, who played in the 1988 semi-final and famously pretended to wipe his backside with a German shirt after the match.
“We have to get 12 points in the matches against Estonia and Belarus and pick up more points than Northern Ireland in our two games with them,” he said.
Estonia v Belarus, 8pm
Cyprus v Kazakhstan, 8pm
Germany v Netherlands, 10.45pm
Wales v Azerbaijan, 10.45pm
Slovakia v Croatia, 10.45pm
Slovenia v Poland, 10.45pm
Austria v Latvia, 10.45pm
Scotland v Russia, 10.45pm
San Marino v Belgium, 10.45pm