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Loew brushes off Ballack criticism before Dutch test

Amsterdam (AFP) – Germany coach Joachim Loew on Friday brushed off sharp criticism from his former captain Michael Ballack in the wake of the country’s dismal World Cup performance.

Loew is under pressure to win Saturday’s Nations League match away to the Netherlands in Amsterdam, and then beat world champions France in Paris next Tuesday.

Ballack, the Germany captain from 2004 to 2010, ramped up the tension this week by saying he was “surprised” Loew kept his job after his side finished bottom of their World Cup group.

“Everyone is welcome to say what they want, but I’m not interested this week, I have other thoughts in my head,” Loew said in response to Ballack’s remarks.

“I saw the headlines, but didn’t read more — it really doesn’t interest me.”

Loew made a calm impression in Friday’s press conference despite needing wins over the Dutch and French in a tough Nations League group to rescue his tarnished reputation after the World Cup debacle.

“No, I do not feel any additional pressure, I’ve been national coach since 2006,” insisted Loew.

“There have been situations before in which we have had defeats and why would I feel more pressure in the Nations League than at a World Cup?”

Germany have not lost to their Dutch neighbours for 16 years, a run Loew hopes to maintain in his 168th international as head coach.

Having held the French to a 0-0 draw in Munich last month, Germany sit second in their Nations League group, three points behind leaders France and one ahead of the last-placed Dutch.

“Obviously, we don’t want to be relegated from this group, in fact we want to win it,” added Loew.

Preparations for both away internationals were disrupted last weekend by a raft of withdrawals, including that of chief playmaker Marco Reus, who is sidelined by a knee injury.

Worryingly for Loew, Bayern Munich are winless in their last four games after suffering a dip in form, which does not bode well for Germany’s defence.

Bayern goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, plus centre-backs Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng – Germany’s axis in defence – have struggled in recent weeks.

However, Loew is set to turn to the trio, as well as Bayern forward Thomas Mueller, who has also been short of form, in Amsterdam.

“Thomas Mueller will play right from the start, the Bayern players have made a good impression this week,” said Loew.

“The four guys have experienced so many positive and negative things.

“They are frustrated for a day or two (after defeat), but they can switch back quickly.

“They were very motivated. I absolutely trust these players and the axis (Neuer, Boateng and Hummels) is very important.”

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