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Germany axes World Cup winners Mueller, Boateng, Hummels

BERLIN (AP) — In a continuing shake-up of Germany's national team following its woeful World Cup campaign, coach Joachim Loew on Tuesday axed the experienced trio of Thomas Mueller, Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels from his future plans — paving the way for a new generation of players to take over.

The decision — which caught many by surprise — represents a calculated gamble by Loew, who is counting on younger players to fill the void the three Bayern Munich players will leave. Mueller scored 38 goals in 100 appearances for Germany and has been a mainstay since finishing joint-top scorer at the 2010 World Cup. Hummels and fellow central defender Boateng have 70 and 74 appearances, respectively, and formed the backbone of the team's defense for years.

All three helped Germany win the World Cup in 2014 but now have to pay the price for the team's botched title defense in Russia, where it was eliminated in the group stage. "We want to give the team a new look. I am convinced that this is the right step," Loew said. "The youngsters coming through will have the room they need to grow. Now it's up to them to take on responsibility."

Boateng, though, said he would have liked to continue playing for Germany. "Loew told me in a straightforward conversation today that I will not continue to be a part of the Germany team because he wants to offer the stage to young players and give the team a new face," Boateng wrote on Twitter. "I personally am convinced that I can still play at the highest level and I will show that in future. ... I'd have wished for a different type of farewell for us."

Loew, who avoided being fired after the tournament in Russia, was backed by German soccer federation president Reinhard Grindel and team manager Oliver Bierhoff. Grindel said the changes come at "the right time" and Bierhoff hailed "a new beginning for the squad."

Grindel himself has also weathered the post-World Cup fallout, despite being heavily criticized for his handling of the media storm that was caused by midfielders Mesut Ozil and Ilkay Gundogan posing for photos in London with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan before the tournament.

It led to both players being subjected to abuse from fans and Ozil's retirement from internationals after the tournament amid accusations of racism. Ozil said he had been made a scapegoat for the World Cup debacle and was particularly scathing of Grindel for adding fuel to the fire.

The national team shake-up has also seen Loew drop Sami Khedira, Sebastian Rudy and Kevin Trapp, while striker Mario Gomez retired. The forced retirements for Mueller, Hummels and Boateng mean just four players are left from the World Cup-winning side of 2014 — Toni Kroos, Manuel Neuer, Matthias Ginter and Julian Draxler. It remains to be seen if Mario Goetze or Shkodran Mustafi return.

Players like Niklas Suele, Jonathan Tah, Thilo Kehrer, Antonio Ruediger or Ginter will be expected to fill the void in defense, while Draxler, Timo Werner, Serge Gnabry, Leroy Sane, Julian Brandt and Kai Havertz will shoulder the attacking responsibilities.

More surprises could come on Friday when Loew announces his squad for the upcoming friendly against Serbia on March 20 in Wolfsburg and the first European qualifier against the Netherlands in Amsterdam four days later.

More AP German soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/Bundesliga and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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