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Germany struggles to keep form after World Cup title, poor record after Brazil

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FRANKFURT, Germany — From one red carpet to the other, Germany is still celebrating the World Cup title.

On the field, however, Germany is looking far from being the best team in the world.

As year-end honors pour in and Joachim Loew's team gets feted across the country, the World Cup champions have struggled to keep up their reputation and so far have had a lackluster European Championship qualifying campaign.

"Somehow, we've landed hard on the surface of reality," Loew said last week.

No wonder Loew is looking ahead to 2015.

"Football has developed further and we have to develop further, too," the Germany coach said. "I am going to think things over during the winter break and we will be making changes."

Since its 7-1 destruction of Brazil in the semifinals and the 1-0 victory over Argentina in the World Cup final, Germany has labored.

Its first match after the World Cup was a 4-2 loss to Argentina in a friendly repeat of the final.

Before Friday's unimpressive 4-0 win over Gibraltar, a British territory of only 30,000 which had previously conceded 17 goals in its three previous Euro 2016 qualifiers, Germany was beaten 2-0 by Poland and held to a 1-1 draw by Ireland. Its only victory in Group D had been a hard-fought 2-1 home win over Scotland.

Loew had promised a "performance worthy of a World Cup winner" against Gibraltar. Instead, the fans expecting a double-digit victory saw another lukewarm display that earned even a few boos and jeers.

"I can't be satisfied," Loew said. "For a world champion, four goals is too few."

PHOTO: Germany's Mario Goetze applauds after a Group D Euro 2016 qualifying match between Germany and Gibraltar in Nuremberg, Germany, Friday, Nov.14, 2014. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)
Germany's Mario Goetze applauds after a Group D Euro 2016 qualifying match between Germany and Gibraltar in Nuremberg, Germany, Friday, Nov.14, 2014. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)

The distractions have been many.

The team received the country's highest honor for sports last week when President Joachim Gauck, joined by Chancellor Angela Merkel, presented the players with the Silver Laurel Leaf in a ceremony at the head of state's Bellevue Palace.

Then they were given the Hollywood treatment and more accolades at the premiere of "Die Mannschaft" (The Team), a film celebrating their victory in Brazil.

There was no shortage of other events as sponsors took their piece of the glory.

On the sporting side, Loew had to deal with retirements of captain Philipp Lahm, fellow defender Per Mertesacker and striker Miroslav Klose.

Add in the injuries to key players such as Bastian Schweinsteiger, Mats Hummels, Mesut Ozil, Ilkay Gundogan and Marco Reus and it becomes clearer why Germany has been struggling.

Loew has to wonder if Schweinsteiger will ever return to his combative best. The Bayern Munich midfielder, who was named Germany captain following Lahm's retirement, hasn't played a competitive game since his inspirational World Cup final appearance. He wasn't fully fit during the tournament but played to great effect through the pain.

The 30-year-old midfielder has returned to training with Bayern Munich after a nagging left-knee injury.

Germany is still looking for a left back and a fulltime goal scorer.

If it were not for Thomas Mueller, who appears never to fall out of form, Germany's results might have been even worse. Mueller scored both against Scotland and chipped in another two against Gibraltar.

Even Mueller is looking for a break.

"It's good that Christmas is approaching," the Bayern Munich forward said. "Two or three weeks of a break won't hurt."

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