Gotze, Sane ready for domestic seasons after watching Germany's World Cup failure from afar

CHICAGO — Mario Gotze unleashed a wide, mischievous smile when asked Thursday evening about the decision by national team coach Joachim Low to exclude young Leroy Sane from the squad Germany took to the 2018 FIFA World Cup. There was so much consequence in that look. It could mean so many things:

What can I say that’s not going to get me in trouble?

You know, I got left off, also. That’s why I’m here playing a preseason friendly.

Forget about 2018, the World Cup you really want to be remembering happened four years ago.

This is what he actually said, or an approximation, translated from the original German: “I just looked at it from a distance, so I think I’ve seen good performances. I can’t really say why certain decisions were made on not being picked.”

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Like Gotze with Borussia Dortmund of Germany’s Bundesliga, Sane is with Premier League champion Manchester City for the International Champions Cup match Friday night at Soldier Field (9 p.m. ET, ESPN2). Most of Man City’s regular lineup and a few from Dortmund required an extended break because of World Cup activity. Not these two. (And, of course, not Dortmund winger Christian Pulisic, who sat out the tournament along with the rest of the U.S. men’s national team.)

Gotze is one of the few people alive who knows what it is like to score the winning goal in the World Cup. He was just 21 when his extra-time strike against Argentina at the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro delivered Germany its first world championship in 24 years. This will always be part of his career.

At the moment, though, it is not so much a highlight as a punctuation mark. Not long after that goal hit the back of the net, he began to struggle with a metabolic disorder. He rapidly fell from favor at Bayern Munich during the 2015-16 season. His subsequent transfer to Dortmund has yet to rejuvenate his play. He scored two goals in 23 appearances last season, as the team fell to fourth place in the Bundesliga.

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Unlike the Sane decision, it was no shock when Gotze was excluded from the German squad that traveled to Russia. The break could benefit him as he prepares for Dortmund’s first season under new manager Lucien Favre, who has coached previously in the Bundesliga and spent the past two seasons at Nice in France’s Ligue 1.

“I really enjoyed the summer break,” Gotze said. “I really took advantage of the full time being off and preparing myself for the season. I’m really looking forward to having fun and enjoying what’s coming.”

Sane, 22, was not made available to the media here, but he initially reacted to being snubbed with a tweet that acknowledged his disappointment but promised he would “bounce back stronger.” He tweeted Wednesday, “Holidays are over. Time to get ready for the upcoming season.”

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It will be a challenge to deliver a better season than the 10-goal, 15-assist performance that led to Sane being chosen the Premier League’s Young Player of the Year. Playing mostly on the left wing, he was an essential part of a team that set a Premier League record with 100 points, 19 ahead of second place Manchester United.

Manager Pep Guardiola does not expect him to dwell on this summer’s disappointment but to concentrate on what can be achieved this year: a Premier League repeat, something no team has managed since Man U won three in a row from 2007-09, and a better Champions League finish than last year’s quarterfinal exit.

“I think it’s the past. Maybe this decision will make him stronger,” Guardiola said. “He’s so young. In two years there’s the European Championship, in four years another World Cup. He has to try to improve his game, try to keep the level he showed last season. We are so happy to have him here with us, but it is what it is.

“I respect all the decisions of the managers because Jogi (Low) has his right decisions … I don’t like when the other managers have an opinion about my decisions – unfortunately, that’s happened. That’s why in the past, in the present and in the future, I don’t make any comments about decisions of my colleagues. Always there is a reason, and we have to accept it and move forward.

“He has the chance to show the national team from Germany, and first of all us, another chance, another season to show his worth.”

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