New-look Germany make promising start with Serbia draw

Serbia's forward Luka Jovic (2nd from L) hits the ball past Germany's goalkeeper Manuel Neuer during the friendly football match Germany v Serbia in Wolfsburg, western Germany on Wednesday. — AFP

WOLFSBURG, Germany, — Germany's new-look team made a promising return to the international stage with a 1-1 draw against Serbia in a friendly on Wednesday, showing signs of improvement following a disastrous 2018.

The Germans, knocked out of the World Cup in the group stage and relegated in the Nations League last year, had only one player from their 2014 World Cup victory in the starting line-up and their oldest outfield player was aged 24.

More aggressive and quicker than in recent games, with Kai Havertz, Julian Brandt and Leroy Sane playing behind forward Timo Werner, the hosts needed only three minutes to get a shot on target with Havertz firing the ball at Serbia keeper Marko Dmitrovic following a quick passing move.

Coach Joachim Loew sent world champions Mats Hummels, Jerome Boateng and Thomas Mueller into international retirement in a surprise decision last week as his team prepare to launch their Euro 2020 qualification campaign against the Netherlands on Sunday.

Serbia went forward after 11 minutes and their first corner bounced off the back of two players to land perfectly for Luka Jovic to head in for his first international goal.

The 21-year-old, who has scored 22 goals in 35 appearances for Eintracht Frankfurt this season, is likely to be among the biggest transfer targets this summer, with Real Madrid and Barcelona among clubs reportedly interested.

Werner twice went close to an equalizer before Serbia, who won promotion in the Nations League after an undefeated run in their group, wasted a chance when Adem Ljajic fired a shot over the bar.

But the Germans kept their foot firmly on the gas and wasted several chances in the second half before substitute Leon Goretzka grabbed a deserved equalizer in the 69th minute.

"In the first half the automation in this new team, playing together for the first time, did not function that well," Loew told reporters.

"In the second half the team sent a very good signal that we can increase pressure and we can increase the tempo. We had a lot of chances and we missed the final touch a bit. That is also part of the learning experience. Overall, I am very satisfied with the mentality, the pressure we created."

Serbia, who had Dmitrovic to thank for hanging on to the draw as the keeper made several saves to deny the Germans a second goal, were left with 10 players when Milan Pavkov was sent off for a reckless challenge on Sane.

The Manchester City winger was taken off but Loew said his injury was not too serious and he would be fit for Sunday. "It was a vicious foul. Sane was lucky and got away with not getting hurt but such fouls can break bones."

France ready to do their

job in Moldova, says Pogba

France's trip to face Moldova in Chisinau might be far from the glitter of a World Cup but they will be just as motivated for their first Euro 2002 qualifier, midfielder Paul Pogba said on Wednesday.

Le Bleus have played six games — four in the Nations League — since beating Croatia 4-2 to win the 2018 World Cup but Friday's Group H opener will be their first leading to a major competition.

"It’s true that it’s not so easy to come back and to have new goals right away after winning the World Cup," Pogba told a news conference on Wednesday.

"But we have to, it’s our job. And we have to remain professional. But now we're going right into the competition, it’s the qualifiers. We want to win, we want to be the first in the group."

France were drawn with Moldova, Albania, Turkey, Andorra and Iceland, who they face at the Stade de France on Monday. The top two qualify for the finals, which are being staged across 12 countries.

Coach Didier Deschamps called up Kingsley Coman after the Bayern Munich forward was omitted from the World Cup squad. The 22-year-old is determined to play at Euro 2020.

"It’s never easy, it can be easy if we make it easy," he told reporters. "We have to go into all the matches fully focused and stay motivated. "I think the team is still hungry for trophies. But to do great things we first have to qualify."

Maguire is England's weak

link, says Czech striker

The Czech Republic are hoping to exploit a perceived weakness in England's defense by targeting center back Harry Maguire during their Euro 2020 qualifier on Friday, striker Matej Vydra has said.

Vydra, who also plays for Burnley, said his club had employed a similar strategy when they faced Maguire's Leicester City team in the Premier League this season and the approach paid dividends with the defender being sent off early on.

"(England's) attack is very strong. Defense, I don't say it's not strong as well, but it's not as strong as the attack," Vydra told reporters.

"For example, Maguire. We talked about him at Burnley before we played against Leicester. In some moments it seems he doesn't know what's happening behind him, that's why he got a red card after five minutes in the match against Burnley."

With England missing Manchester City center back John Stones due to injury, Maguire is set to be joined by either Everton's Michael Keane or Vydra's Burnley teammate James Tarkowski in central defense.

Vydra said the Czechs planned to disrupt England's passing game by snapping into tackles and denying their opponents time on the ball.

"(England) like to hold the ball so we have to be close to them," he added. "Don't be afraid to kick them three or four times — then they may change the plan and play one or two touches."

England play the Czech Republic at Wembley before traveling to take on Montenegro on Monday. — Reuters