VATUTINKI, Russia (Reuters) - Germany’s Mesut Ozil and Ilkay Gundogan should prepare for more whistles and jeers over photographs taken with Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan, coach Joachim Loew said on Wednesday, as the world champions prepare for their title defense.
The two players of Turkish descent have been dealing with a barrage of criticism in Germany after they were pictured with Erdogan in London last month and the affair has overshadowed their run-up to the tournament.
“My job now is to bring both players to top form so that they are well prepared,” Loew told a news conference after Germany’s first training session in Russia.
“They will possibly be accompanied by some whistles (in the Group F opener against Mexico on Sunday).”
“OK, it is what it is. I cannot influence the whistles. I would have liked it differently but my job is to get them into the flow and help our team.”
The pair were jeered in Germany’s warm-up defeat by Austria on June 2 and Gundogan received similar treatment in last week’s win over Saudi Arabia. Ozil did not play in that game.
Many fans and politicians in Germany were angered by the photos showing the players beaming while presenting Erdogan with shirts from their Premier League clubs - Ozil’s Arsenal and Gundogan’s English champions Manchester City.
Gundogan called Erdogan “my president” in a message.
The photographs also unleashed a storm of criticism from lawmakers across Germany’s political spectrum and the country’s football federation, all of whom argued that Erdogan does not sufficiently respect German values.
Ties between the European Union and Turkey have deteriorated over the past two years amid a crackdown by Erdogan’s government on suspected supporters of a failed military coup in July, 2016.
Loew said the two players had been affected by this reaction and Gundogan needed the team’s support after the game against Saudi Arabia.
“He was a bit dejected after the game and we had to build him up a bit. This three-day break before arriving in Russia was good for him,” the coach said.
“Maybe both can now turn the switch and focus on what is important for us. We will succeed in having them in the form we want them in.”
Germany start their title defense against Mexico at Moscow’s Luzhniki stadium as they bid to become the first nation since Brazil in 1962 to successfully defend the World Cup.
Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Ken Ferris