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Germany and Spain move away from false nines as World Cup draws near

Germany and Spain move away from false nines as World Cup draws near
From ESPN - March 21, 2018

Germany and Spain meet on Friday in a friendly.Ahead of the game, we asked Raphael Honigstein and Sid Lowe to discuss the state of the two teams, with fewer than three months until the World Cup kicks off.

Raf gets the debate going:

Mein lieber Sid,

You will be pleased to find that Bundestrainer Joachim Low has shown himself a huge Radiohead fan: There are No Surprises in the 26-strong squad he has picked for the Spain and Brazil friendlies. The underlying message of this conservative approach seems to be that the time for experiments is over and the 58-year-old has a pretty good idea who he will take the Russia; only a couple of spaces are still up for grabs.

Having said that, Low purposefully omitted two World Cup hopefuls -- for two very different reasons -- who have big chances to make the final squad. Marco Reus was left out for his own benefit, to be able to "train and play regularly, to find his rhythm, security and confidence," as Low explained. The 28-year-old has performed well for Borussia Dortmund since returning from injury in November and, if he can stay fit, is destined to feature for Germany in the summer.

The situation is more precarious for Reus' BVB teammate Mario Gotze. Low pointedly refused to explain the attacking midfielder's exclusion, but it can be interpreted as a warning shot and the 25-year-old has to get a move on. Gotze was criticised by BVB coach Peter Stoger after a dismal 45-minute showing in the 0-0 draw in Salzburg last Thursday: "We did not see anything from him," the Austrian said. But the scorer of a World Cup-winning goal in 2014 had a better game in Sunday's 1-0 win over Hannover and has a lot of credit with Low. I personally believe that Dortmund central midfielder Mahmoud Dahoud might also force his way into the squad by mid-May.

As far as the men who will play in Dusseldorf against Spain are concerned, the main battle is between Bayern Munich's Sandro Wagner and Mario Gomez of Stuttgart for the centre-forward position. Wagner would seem to have the upper hand and a decent match vs. Josep Lopetegui's side, or in Berlin against Brazil four days later, would probably seal the deal. Tell Sergio Ramos to get ready for a physical challenge. The days of Low playing a false nine, in a tribute to the La Roja, are over.

Kind regards.

Look out Raf, Mr. Bad Guy is back.

Julen Lopetegui named his squad on Friday and, after nine months, Diego Costa is in again. Which we probably should have anticipated and which, over the last two months, we all pretty much knew would be the case. And yet, not so long ago, you could not help wondering if he would ever play for Spain again.

In the summer, Costa was hanging out in Brazil: He'd fallen out with Chelsea and was refusing to return to London, while holding out for a move to Atletico Madrid that was far from guaranteed. When it did finally happen, he strolled into Barajas Terminal 4 looking a bit, well, podgy: "Profe Ortega will get me in shape," he said. With Atletico banned from signing anyone, he was not going to be able to play until after Christmas. In the meantime, Alvaro Morata replaced him at Chelsea and in the national team.

Yeah, Costa scored five times in qualification but he had been absent from the decisive games and Morata was scoring regulalry. But here we are, months later: Costa in and Morata very definitely out. The other strikers in Spain's squad are Iago Aspas and Rodrigo Moreno.

The fact that Lopetegui has thrown Costa straight back in says something about the difference the 29-year-old has made since he started playing (unlike Vitolo, Lopetegui's big discovery, whose awful season split between Las Palmas and the Atletico subs bench means his opportunity has almost certainly gone). Costa has scored six times in 2018; he's also been sent off, of course, growling and fighting and being, well, Diego Costa.

His recall also suggests that Lopetegui was waiting for him. Not least because, in his absence, the coach played Morata, Rodrigo, Aritz Aduriz and even Isco as a false nine. (Did you see Isco against Italy, by the way? Woof!)

But do not expect that this time. Oh no; Costa's here. And if Lopetegui was waiting for him, Diego's waiting for the Germans. Poor sods. You think Sergio Ramos has a physical battle in store against Sandro Wagner? What about your defenders? Ouch.

Much love!

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