Germany defender Benedikt Howedes has insisted the world champions must prove themselves again if they are to secure qualification for Russia 2018.
Joachim Low’s side, who exited Euro 2016 in the semi-finals, have been draw in Group C for the World Cup qualifying campaign, alongside the Czech Republic, Northern Ireland, Norway, Azerbaijan and minnows San Marino.
But, despite what appears to be a straightforward task for Germany, Schalke’s Howedes claims they cannot take anything for granted following their success in Brazil two years ago.
“Four years have passed [since the last World Cup qualifying campaign began],” he told FIFA’s official website, ahead of a friendly meeting with Finland on Wednesday and the first qualifier away to Norway four days later.
“We’re certainly at a different level to where we were back then and can’t expect to qualify automatically just because we’re now world champions.
“I think even the body language of the players reflects the fact that we’ve won the biggest trophy in football and that gives us a sense of superiority.
“I also think other opponents now have greater respect for us. You can see that on the pitch.
“We need to prove ourselves all over again. We’ve got to rise to the challenge and if we do that I’m sure we’ll qualify.
“It’s probably a good thing to be in a competitive frame of mind and not just playing friendlies. That way, we’re always obliged to deliver top performances,” he added, referring to the fact World Cup winners are no longer granted an automatic route into the next tournament.
Despite operating primarily in a central role for Schalke – who got their Bundesliga campaign off to a poor start with a 1-0 defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt – Howedes has been used in a variety of positions by Low for the national side.
However, the 28-year-old has no issues with filling in when required and knows the coach appreciates his versatility.
“He has spoken to me a lot and told me that he’s happy with my work. I also think that I’ve done what he’s asked of me,” Howedes added.
“I know that what I do doesn’t look spectacular for the media; I don’t stand out with amazing crosses or solo runs. But that hasn’t been my aim or the coach’s intention.”
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