DUSIBURG, Germany (Reuters) - Germany must bounce back from last year's disappointing Nations League campaign with a firm start in their opening 2022 World Cup qualifiers, coach Joachim Loew said ahead of Thursday's home game against Iceland in Europe's Group J.
A 6-0 drubbing by Spain in their final Nations League match in November meant early elimination for the 2014 world champions and left a bitter taste after Germany also made a group stage exit in the 2018 World Cup.
Loew, who said earlier in March he would quit after the June 11- July 11 European championship, asked his players to prove their worth as Germany visit Romania on Sunday and host North Macedonia next Wednesday.
"I expect a response and we also have to show that we have made progress, demonstrating the kind of running and fighting spirit that makes us a passionate team," the 61-year old told a news conference on Wednesday.
"We have to start with a string of good results and performances, throwing in everything that's necessary to make an impression after last November's disappointment."
Loew will miss Toni Kroos after the Real Madrid playmaker was forced to pull out with a muscle injury but was confident that a plethora of options in midfield would compensate for his absence.
He particularly singled out Manchester City's attacking midfielder Ilkay Gundogan, who has been in superb form for the Premier League leaders this season.
"Leon Goretzka, Gundogan and Joshua Kimmich are in very good form so we are very well stocked in midfield. Kroos always wants to play of course but the medical staff said it wasn't possible this time," he said.
"Ilkay is an exceptionally good strategist, he always was but he was injured in the past ahead of major tournaments. He has not had any injuries for two or three years now and has played regularly, showing a lot more goal threat."
Loew stressed he expected a tough game against Iceland, who missed out on qualifying for Euro 2020 after reaching the 2018 World Cup and Euro 2016, where they won the hearts of neutral fans by advancing to the quarter-finals.
"Sport is very important in Iceland, even in the icy months," he said.
"The Icelanders are known for their winning mentality as they never give up no matter how the game goes. They are compact and can defend really well, a very difficult opponent."
(Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic; Editing by Pritha Sarkar)