- Associated Press - Friday, June 30, 2017

SOCHI, Russia (AP) - Germany and its coach Joachim Loew have already exceeded their expectations by advancing to Sunday’s Confederations Cup final.

Loew took mostly young and untried players to represent the World Cup winner in Russia, and rested several stars ahead of defending their title next year.

This new German generation rewarded the faith of their experienced coach - who set a goal of reaching the semifinals - with a 4-1 win over Mexico on Thursday.

A battle-tested Chile team awaits in St. Petersburg as the next test in the German players’ international education.

“For us, (the results were) not so important,” team manager Oliver Bierhoff said after the semifinals win in Sochi, “but seeing how the players behave and how they perform in certain circumstances.”

Germany was assured against a Mexico team that fought hard after giving up two goals in the first eight minutes to Leon Goretzka, the 22-year-old Schalke midfielder having a breakout tournament.

“I think we played very mature,” said defender Antonio Ruediger, a squad veteran at 24 with almost four years’ national-team experience. “I think not everyone thought we would get so far, but I always believed in the quality of the team.”

The deep pool of German talent in Russia should concern those countries which seek to dethrone the world champion.

Absent from Loew’s squad here are goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, defenders Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng, midfielder Toni Kroos, and forwards Mesut Ozil and Thomas Mueller from his 2014 World Cup who and aim to return next year.

They also risked burnout after a busy 2016 summer reaching the European Championship semifinals, and another season of Champions League games.

Loew has suggested in Russia that up to four of his squad here could force their way into his World Cup plans.

“Our team has learned a lot,” Loew said Thursday. “That experience is going to help and stay with my players not only now, but throughout the years.”

Loew picked players on Thursday from top clubs like Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. Still, they need to experience the demands of living and playing together at a tournament against teams from outside Europe.

“These situations for young players are not necessarily something you can simulate in friendlies in November,” Loew said in Sochi this week.

The manner of victory over Mexico in a knockout game might have followed Loew’s perfect design.

An early lead settled his young players; Mexico’s rally taught them about playing under pressure; a third goal built confidence and let others get more playing time.

Even Mexico’s goal, in the 89th minute, was a teachable moment after Germany collectively lost concentration at a free kick. No one closed down Marco Fabian who received a quick pass and scored with a long-range shot.

There was still time for substitute Amin Younes, who played just 10 minutes in the group stage, to score a fourth goal.

“You can see the education of our players,” said Bierhoff, a 2002 World Cup runner-up who scored the title-winning goal at Euro ‘96. “They can play in every system and they are quite smart to adapt. This gives us more opportunities.”

The next opportunity is to collect another trophy Sunday. However, maybe it is better for Germany to lose this time against Chile after their 1-1 draw in the group stage last week.

No Confederations Cup title holder has ever gone on to win the next year’s World Cup.

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More AP Confederations Cup coverage: www.apnews.com/tag/ConfederationsCup

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