Mesut Ozil insists he regrets neither his infamous photo with controversial Turkey president Recep Tayyip Erdogan nor his international retirement that came amid the subsequent furore.

Arsenal star Ozil ended his nine-year Germany career in ugly circumstances last year, with the playmaker previously coming in for significant criticism.

In May 2018, Ozil and Germany team-mate Ilkay Gundogan – both of whom are of Turkish descent – met and had photos with Erdogan ahead of Turkey's general election.

The move was perceived by some as a show of support for the politician who was re-elected days later despite protests over his government's alleged systematic arrest of journalists, civil rights activists and political opponents.

Both players were jeered by Germany supporters in pre-World Cup friendlies, but the German Football Association (DFB) opted against public criticism, instead attempting to urge focus on the upcoming campaign in Russia.

After the tournament, where Joachim Low's defending champions made an early exit, Ozil published a letter clarifying the context of the Erdogan photo before then accusing the DFB, its president and other high-profile German officials of racism and disrespect, as he announced his international retirement.

Ozil has no regrets and told The Athletic: "[Erdogan] is the current president of Turkey and I would show respect to that person, whoever it was. Although I was born and raised in Germany, Turkey is part of my heritage.

"If the German president or [chancellor] Angela Merkel are in London and ask to see me, to speak to me, of course I would do that as well. It's just about showing respect to the highest position of a country.

"With time to reflect, I know it was the right decision. It was a very difficult period for me as I played nine years for Germany and was one of their most successful players. I won the World Cup and more, played a lot of games - a lot of them really good - and gave everything.

"I don't say people must love me but just show respect about what I've done for Germany. The team was always competitive, but they wanted to play a more attractive style, all age groups using the ball better. A bit like Spain.

"My generation changed German football. It became more fun to watch. But after the photo, I felt disrespected and unprotected.

"I was receiving racist abuse - even from politicians and public figures - yet nobody from the national team came out at that time and said, 'Hey, stop. This is our player, you can't insult him like that'. Everyone just kept quiet and let it happen.

"It felt like I was expected to apologise for the meeting, admit I'd made a mistake and then everything would be fine; otherwise I was not welcome in the team and should leave. I would never do that.

"Racism has always been there, but people used this situation as an excuse to let it out.

"They are free to have a personal view, to dislike a photo I've taken, just as I'm free to make a personal decision to have the photo taken, but what followed exposed their racism for everyone to see.

"When we were knocked out [of the World Cup] and I came off the pitch, German people were telling me, 'Go back to your country', 'F*** yourself', 'Turkish pig' and stuff like that.

"Before the tournament, there was a friendly in Leverkusen and when the ball came to Ilkay Gundogan, most of the stadium was booing him. I heard them shouting, 'Goat f*****’, 'F****** Turkish boy' and other insults I can't repeat.

"But what upset me most was the reaction of the school I went to in Gelsenkirchen. I've always supported them and we decided to do a year-long programme together. At the end, I was going to attend a ceremony and meet all of the staff and children, many from immigrant backgrounds.

"Everything was planned, but then the school director told my team I should not come because of the media attention and the rise of the right-wing AfD party in their city.

"I couldn't believe it. My home town, my school. I gave them my hand but they didn't give theirs back. I've never felt so unwelcome.

"I'm proud to still work with one charity, who provide operations for children worldwide, and they stood by me. But the national team chapter is over."

Joachim Low applauded a weakened Germany for battling through adversity in the 3-0 win over Estonia that put them on the cusp of Euro 2020 qualification.

Emre Can's 14th-minute dismissal for a last-man foul on Frank Liivak left the visitors at risk of a potentially embarrassing result in Tallinn on Sunday but two deflected strikes from Ilkay Gundogan after half-time dug Low's men out of a hole.

The Manchester City midfielder then set up the sealer for Timo Werner as Germany edged three points clear of third-place Northern Ireland in Group C with two games remaining.

Toni Kroos, Matthias Ginter, Serge Gnabry and several more regular squad members missed the Estonia match through injury, while Werner and Gundogan only returned to the fold after skipping last week's friendly against Argentina due to illness and a muscle problem respectively.

"Firstly, I'm happy we got the job done," Low said after the victory, his team's fifth in six qualifying fixtures.

"It was tough work out there. The team did well in the second half. We kept a clean sheet and scored three goals.

"The decisive factor was that we increased the tempo in the second half and kept calm.

"A lot has gone wrong this week with all the injuries and withdrawals. 

"It took a bit of improvisation. We did not train much. The first half against Argentina was good and the second against Estonia, so we can still analyse that and gain good insights."

Goalkeeper and captain Manuel Neuer agreed with his head coach's assessment, deeming the result and performance acceptable given the circumstances.

He said: "We were down to 10 men after 15 minutes, which makes everything more difficult as you have to reset.

"Because of that, I didn't think it was a bad performance.

"It was a matter of time that the goals would come. Eventually we put them away."

Germany midfielder Ilkay Gundogan hit back after he was criticised for liking a supposedly politically charged social media post from Turkey striker Cenk Tosun, insisting he was only trying to "support" a friend.

Everton forward Tosun scored a late winner in Turkey's 1-0 victory over Albania on Friday – he and team-mates celebrating with a military-style salute.

Those actions were widely interpreted as a gesture of support of Turkey's armed offensive against Kurds in Syria.

Tosun subsequently posted a photo of celebration on social media and Gundogan and Germany team-mate Emre Can 'liked' the upload.

But Gundogan – who has previously been pictured with Turkey's controversial president Recep Tayyip Erdogan – insists he was not trying to make a political statement by interacting with Tosun's post.

"It is blatant what is written these days is for clicks. I thought I liked a photo of a friend I've lived with in Manchester, who's having a tough time at Everton, barely playing, then scoring a goal and leading his team to victory," Gundogan told reporters after scoring a brace in Germany's 3-0 win over Estonia.

"Next, I believe 200,000 other people have liked this image, footballers from all over the world. Then we are the two picked and made a story out of. It's a pity.

"There was absolutely no political intention behind it. Emre and I are both consistent against any kind of war and terror, no matter where it takes place in the world.

"That's why it was only intended as a pure support for our friend."  

Ilkay Gundogan scored a fortuitous brace and set up Timo Werner as Germany beat Estonia 3-0 in Tallinn on Sunday despite Emre Can's early dismissal, taking them a step closer to Euro 2020 qualification.

Northern Ireland's 3-1 defeat to Netherlands on Thursday meant Germany could put a three-point cushion between themselves and Michael O'Neill's men with a win and they just about did enough to prevail in spite of an awkward start.

Any chance of Germany repeating their 8-0 demolition of Estonia vanished with Can's early red card, as the Juventus midfielder – who was deployed in defence – paid the price for complacency at the back.

But fortune smiled on Die Mannschaft after half-time, as Gundogan found the net twice with deflected attempts and Werner completed the scoring to leave Joachim Low's men level on 15 points with Group C leaders Netherlands.

Can lasted just 14 minutes before his moment of madness, allowing a pass across the edge of the box to roll past him and stretching to reach it, fouling Frank Liivak and earning a straight red.

The visitors remained the dominant force, however, with Luca Waldschmidt drawing a good save from Sergei Lepmets in the 24th minute.

Lepmets could only watch and hope just before the break, as Marco Reus' 30-yard free-kick rattled against his crossbar.

But Germany did break the deadlock early in the second half, with Gundogan's low drive from just outside the box deflecting in off Reus.

The Manchester City midfielder struck again six minutes later, this time receiving Reus' cut-back inside the area and seeing his strike flick off a defender and beat the helpless Lepmets.

Substitute Werner's clincher was rather more impressive, as the forward raced on to Gundogan's pass and smashed home after cutting inside to dodge Lepmets.

What does it mean? Qualification in Germany's hands

With just two qualifiers remaining, Germany are suddenly looking in particularly good shape in terms of their qualification hopes.

Northern Ireland have done a fine job of keeping Germany and Netherlands on their toes, but now they will almost certainly have to beat Die Mannschaft in Frankfurt in their final qualifier to reach the finals.

Gundogan the driving force

While it was by no means a vintage display from Germany, Gundogan was the key man. He drove forward with intent, used the ball positively, got the first two goals - even if they were somewhat lucky - and set up Werner.

Emre Can not keep his cool

Deployed at centre-back again, it is fair to say it was a day to forget for Can. His early red card simply came about because of carelessness and did little to silence those adamant he should under no circumstances be playing in defence for Germany.

What's next?

Germany return to action next month with home matches against Belarus and Northern Ireland. Estonia go to Ukraine next time, before also facing Netherlands away from home.

Serge Gnabry will play no part in Germany's Euro 2020 qualifier against Estonia on Sunday due to a muscular problem.

Gnabry has been in fine form of late, scoring eight goals in his past 10 matches across all competitions for club and country, while he is also Germany's most prolific player in Euro 2020 qualifying with five strikes.

But he will not add to that on in Tallinn on Sunday, with Germany set to face rock-bottom Estonia in their Group C clash.

Gnabry will not be risked as a precaution, the German Football Federation (DFB) confirmed on Twitter as Germany aim to remain level on points with Netherlands at the top.

The winger will return to Bayern after Sunday's match and aim to be back in contention for their Bundesliga trip to Augsburg on Saturday.

Marco Reus comes into the team in Gnabry's place having been an unused substitute in Wednesday's 2-2 friendly draw against Argentina.

Manuel Neuer replaces Marc-Andre ter Stegen in goal, with the Bayern Munich star still Joachim Low's preferred option.

The only other change sees Ilkay Gundogan come in for Robin Koch.

Serge Gnabry is regarded as an automatic starter by Germany coach Joachim Low and he might have attained that status earlier had a serious knee injury not prevented him from featuring at the 2014 World Cup.

Gnabry was considered a prodigious prospect at Arsenal after signing from Stuttgart as a youngster in 2011, breaking into the Gunners' first-team squad the following year at just 17.

He then featured 14 times across all competitions before suffering a bad injury against future employers Bayern Munich in the Champions League in March 2014, ruling him out of first-team action until the 2015-16 season.

An unsuccessful loan spell at West Brom followed in that campaign, but Gnabry got his career back on track after moving to Werder Bremen, earning a switch to Bayern where he has developed into one of Europe's most exciting wingers.

Gnabry's route to the top has been rather more convoluted than many would have expected during his early days at Arsenal and, according to Low, his 2014 injury robbed him of a place in Germany's World Cup-winning squad in Brazil just before his 19th birthday.

"In spring 2014, I made a couple of trips to London," Low told reporters ahead of Sunday's Euro 2020 qualifier with Estonia.

"He played well in several matches and really impressed me. I wanted to include Serge in the squad for the 2014 World Cup, but he was unfortunately injured.

"He has been very strong in several matches for us recently. I like the way that he moves and how dangerous he is in front of goal.

"He is fortunate to have the chance to play at the very highest level. We need to encourage that and support him.

"Based on his performances over the past nine months, he needs to be on the pitch for us if he's fit and able to play."

Manuel Neuer dismissed suggestions of a rift between himself and Germany goalkeeping colleague Marc-Andre ter Stegen and also denied claims he is contemplating retirement next year.

Germany coach Joachim Low's selections between the posts have been a major talking point in recent months, with Neuer seemingly still first-choice despite Ter Stegen's form for Barcelona.

Ter Stegen has emerged as one of the world's most consistent and dependable goalkeepers, while Neuer – who is now 33 – has shown signs of regression.

Barca star Ter Stegen was criticised by Neuer last month for "inappropriate" comments about being disappointed at losing his place in the starting XI, while Bayern Munich president Uli Hoeness also took aim at the 27-year-old.

But Neuer insists there is no lack of harmony among Die Mannschaft's goalkeepers.

"I hope you have watched us closely, it's a great relationship with us," Neuer told reporters ahead of Sunday's Euro 2020 qualifier against Estonia.

"[Ter Stegen] played well against Argentina. We have the right team [of goalkeepers], with Bernd Leno and Kevin Trapp as well. There is nothing to report, there was no deep conversation."

Ter Stegen should not expect an easy run at the starting role anytime soon either, as Neuer denied reports he is considering retirement after Euro 2020.

"There's absolutely nothing to announce," he said. "I'm feeling well, I'm feeling fit and I'm performing well. I'm not thinking about ending my career."

Some have tipped Schalke's Alexander Nubel – not Ter Stegen – to eventually take over from Neuer in the Germany goal, and they Bayern man sees that as a possibility.

"He could be," Neuer said when asked if Nubel may be his successor. "He has made good progress. He is a regular goalkeeper for Schalke and played a very good Under-21 European Championship.

"He is currently performing very well. Of course, he needs some experience as well, but the signs for German football are good, even in the goalkeeping department."

Bayer Leverkusen midfielder Kai Havertz insists he will have the final say on his next career move after being linked with Real Madrid and Barcelona.

The 20-year-old enjoyed a breakthrough campaign in 2018-19, scoring 17 Bundesliga goals as he helped Leverkusen qualify for the Champions League.

Havertz scored his first international goal for Germany in Wednesday's 2-2 draw with Argentina and reports in Spain suggest LaLiga heavyweights Madrid and Barcelona are interested in the player.

While open to advice on his future, including from national boss Joachim Low, Havertz - who is under contract at BayArena until 2022 - will make a choice that is right for him.

Speaking at a Germany news conference on Friday, he said: "I listen to many people but in the end it will be my decision. 

"I will embrace any advice Low will give me because he has a lot experience - it wouldn't be smart to not listen to him."

Bayer Leverkusen sporting director Rudi Voller confirmed in August that Bayern Munich have previously showed an interest in Havertz, who is in line to feature for his country in the Euro 2020 qualifier against Estonia on Sunday.

Serge Gnabry feels team-mate Thomas Muller deserves to be shown some respect amid reports he could be on his way out of Bayern Munich in January.

The 30-year-old has spent his entire club career at Bayern but has been linked with a move away after being reduced to a peripheral role this season.

Muller has started the German champions' last five matches on the bench and admitted earlier this week he is not happy with the current situation.

Manchester United have been tipped to move for the versatile attacker, but Gnabry claims it is wrong to speculate over his future and cannot envisage life at the Allianz Arena without his compatriot.

"Normally I shouldn't say anything about it," he said at a Germany news conference on Friday. "But when a player has been with one club since his childhood, then a Bayern Munich without Thomas Muller is difficult to imagine. 

"It is easy to relate with every player who does not play and who is angry about that. This is normal. You don't have to make the whole thing bigger than it is. 

"Thomas has got his qualities and has won everything. You have to have respect for him and must not ask stupid questions or spread negative news about him."

Muller, along with Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels, has also been overlooked at the international level since March after being told he will no longer be picked by Joachim Low.

Gnabry has more than helped to fill the void by scoring 10 goals in 11 appearances for the senior side, and the former Arsenal winger intends to keep impressing.

"I'm having a great run right now," he said. "It takes a lot of work, the right attitude. You cannot rest. The good environment here helps me a lot. The mood is relaxed-casual.

"I want to do my best in every game. You have to prove yourself again and again. 

"If I were to play three games, surely someone else would get my playing time. That's why I'm trying to focus on maintaining my performance."

Joachim Low's decision not to select Mats Hummels for Germany must be accepted, according to former Borussia Dortmund player and coach Jorg Heinrich.

Hummels was suddenly dropped from the national team in March, along with his then Bayern Munich team-mates Thomas Muller and Jerome Boateng.

The centre-back subsequently rejoined Dortmund from Bayern and has been in fine form in the early weeks of the 2019-20 Bundesliga season.

Low, though, has continued to leave Hummels out of his squad despite defensive injuries affecting his latest selection, with Freiburg's Robin Koch called up for the first time.

"Jogi Low has his strategy with dealing with this topic," Champions League winner Heinrich told Omnisport. "When Hummels played in Munich it was not a big topic for us.

"Now he's playing very well for BVB and everybody would be happy to see him in the DFB shirt, but in the end it's a decision of Joachim Low and we have to respect that."

Low has turned to youth in a bid to inspire a turnaround in Germany's fortunes after flopping at Russia 2018, where their World Cup defence ended in the group stages.

"Joachim Low is very courageous to work with such a lot of young, talented players," former Germany international Heinrich added.

"It's not an easy situation after the great success we had in 2014 to build a new team.

"He's doing very well. We have very, very talented players in Germany that have to play at a high level to improve. We're looking in a very positive way."

Jurgen Klopp insists he is happy at Liverpool "for now" but could not rule out the possibility of succeeding Joachim Low as Germany coach in 2022.

Klopp has overseen a significant improvement since taking over at Anfield in 2015, turning the Reds into a real force both domestically and in Europe.

Under Klopp, Liverpool have reached three major European finals and won the 2018-19 Champions League, following that up with UEFA Super Cup success.

Although they missed out in the Premier League title last term, finishing just a point behind Manchester City, a stunning start to the new campaign has them eight clear of Pep Guardiola's men after eight matches.

With Germany struggling to live up to expectations since winning the 2017 Confederations Cup, Klopp has been suggested as a potential saviour assuming Low leaves at the end of his contract in 2022, but the former Borussia Dortmund boss is keeping his cards close to his chest.

When asked about taking over in three years' time, Klopp told Magenta TV: "I really cannot say. I do not know if I would like to.

"Now, as of today, I do not feel like it. I'm totally happy with what I do now and that's important in the whole story.

"I also could not say 100 percent if I was the right choice. If the question ever arises, I would think about it - but not now."

Klopp is contracted to Liverpool until the end of June 2022.

Bastian Schweinsteiger will be remembered as one of Germany's all-time greats because he was "symbolic" for more than 10 years, according to his first Bayern Munich coach Ottmar Hitzfeld.

Schweinsteiger, 35, confirmed on Tuesday he will end his playing career when the 2019 MLS season concludes, with Chicago Fire failing to reach the playoffs.

The midfielder has enjoyed an illustrious career at the top, spending 13 years in Bayern's first-team before also playing for Manchester United for just over 18 months.

But arguably most importantly he represented his country for 12 years after making his debut in 2004, helping them to a third-place finish as World Cup hosts in 2006, then again in South Africa four years later, before eventually becoming champions in 2014.

Hitzfeld gave Schweinsteiger his Bayern debut as an 18-year-old in 2002 and feels it was an honour to work with someone who went on to become a Germany icon.

"That was the time when I thought I could throw the boy in," Hitzfeld told Goal and SPOX of Schweinsteiger's debut against Lens in the Champions League 17 years ago.

"I had already seen in the training games what a high level and what great talent he had. Nevertheless, it is a long way [to the top]. As a coach, I experienced many talents who then fell by the wayside.

"For me as a coach, it was not difficult to shape him, because his great talent was already there.

"Bastian was a born footballer, you do not have to do much, just lead. That's why I'm glad he made that career. It was a privilege to work with him, because such a player is a gift for every coach.

"Bastian is one of the best German footballers of all time. He has shaped German football with his unbelievable game intelligence for more than a decade as a symbolic figure.

"His share in winning the World Cup was incredibly high. You cannot overestimate his performance.

"With this German mentality, with this fighting spirit coupled with his technical ability, he has fought until the end.

"He has preceded [others] as an absolute role model and has transferred his incredible will to the team."

Lionel Scaloni thinks Argentina's 2-2 draw with Germany on Wednesday produced arguably the best performance of his spell in charge of La Albiceleste.

Argentina found themselves trailing 2-0 in Dortmund after 22 minutes of the international friendly, as Serge Gnabry prodded in from close range before teeing up Kai Havertz for his first Germany goal.

But Scaloni's substitutions helped inspire a comeback, as Lucas Alario – brought on for Paulo Dybala just past the hour – headed in and then Lucas Ocampos sealed a draw late on having been introduced at half-time.

Scaloni stepped in after Argentina's shambolic 2018 World Cup campaign and has often attracted criticism for his selections and disappointing displays against better opposition, although Wednesday's comeback left him optimistic for the future.

When asked if it was the best showing of his tenure, Scaloni told reporters: "Possibly, yes, considering the opponent, but we had great games before, with our attitude.

"What stands out, aside from the performance, was the attitude of wanting to overcome the score and not give the match away. That was our team's greatest virtue in the second half.

"It was a complicated match at 2-0, and it could've ended badly for us, but we read the match properly.

"What we were supposed to do in the first half didn't happen. In the second half it did. We've matured lot, that's what these matches are all about; growing for the future, with complicated things ahead.

"I think it [the second half] was the same as the first half, with the distinction that we didn't commit any mistakes at ball clearances.

"We had four mistakes in the first period; two of them were goals, the other two weren't.

"In these kinds of games, what matters is the functionality over the score. Logically, if we don't lose, it's better. The score comes second, most important is the performance.

"In the second half, I'll say it again, we saw another Argentina, a more decisive Argentina that knew what to do. But the first half needs to be properly analysed.

"There were mistakes and if we could erase those mistakes, the performance wasn't bad. Logically, Argentina were superior in the second half, so we must point out the good aspects and correct the bad ones from now on."

Emre Can said he is unhappy at Serie A champions Juventus as the Germany international struggles for game time in Turin.

Can has only made three substitute Serie A appearances for Juventus after being left out of the club's Champions League squad this season.

The 25-year-old midfielder was a 71st-minute substitute against Inter last week, taking his tally to just 78 league minutes in 2019-20 under head coach Maurizio Sarri.

Can did manage to complete the full match in Germany's 2-2 friendly draw with Argentina on Wednesday and he told reporters: "I'm not happy [at Juventus] right now. I don't play much at the moment.

"Last season I played a lot. Especially in important games for Juventus. And I also played well there.

"I haven't had a chance this season. But now I think, when I come back to the club, I will get chances again.

"I am definitely grateful to Joachim Low. Because I didn't play much in the club and he invited me anyway.

"Nevertheless, he gave me the chance. That's why I was simply happy that I played again."

Can and Germany are back in action on Sunday, when they travel to Estonia for their Euro 2020 qualifier.

 

 

Joachim Low hailed Serge Gnabry's performance in Germany's 2-2 draw with Argentina as "very dangerous" but said he brought the Bayern Munich forward off to protect him from injury.

Gnabry netted Germany's opener after just 15 minutes of the friendly at Signal-Iduna-Park, taking his goal tally for club and country to six in his last four matches.

Kai Havertz added a second to give Low's men a 2-0 lead at half-time but Argentina took advantage of some poor second-half defending to level the match, with Lucas Alario and Lucas Ocampos on target.

Germany face Estonia in a Euro 2020 qualifying match on Sunday, and Low indicated his decision to replace Gnabry after 72 minutes with Schalke's Suat Serdar was made with one eye on that game.

"We didn't want Serge Gnabry playing for 90 minutes," Low told reporters.

"He has also played a lot of games lately. He went very fast and covered a lot of ground.

"Serge showed up almost everywhere, was always very dangerous and made the Argentine defence insecure in the first half. That's why it was clear from the outset that we would take him off the pitch after 70 minutes.

"We definitely need him in the next games, and the risk was too big for me that he could still injure himself there."

Low gave a glowing report on Joshua Kimmich's performance as captain, and explained his decision to give the Bayern Munich defensive midfielder the armband.

At the age of just 24, Kimmich has already earned 45 caps since making his Germany debut in May 2016.

"Jo [Kimmich] has been with us a long time," said Low. "He fits in with his personality. He's a role model when it comes to deployment. He is a role model in his whole attitude.

"Meanwhile he also has some experience. He can also verbally lead a team on the pitch. He is very good at organisation and gives instructions.

"He is also always omnipresent on the pitch. So it was clear to me that Jo [Kimmich] was captain today."

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