FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — To prepare for the World Cup qualifying match in Kazakhstan, Germany practiced on artificial turf playing handball.
Friday's match in Astana will be played on an artificial pitch. But handball?
German scouts say Kazakhstan plays a defense that drops so far back that it resembles the semi-circle zone in handball, so coach Joachim Loew had his players passing the ball around with their hands and trying to break through.
That was only one training session, however, while the rest was more traditional football work.
More worrying for the Germans than the Kazakhstan defense and the artificial turf could be the absence of several key players.
Midfielders Toni Kroos, Sven Bender and Lars Bender, defenders Mats Hummels and Holger Badstuber, and striker Miroslav Klose are all out with injuries and illness.
Attacking midfielders Marco Reus is suspended for the first match in Astana.
Bastian Schweinsteiger, Lukas Podolski and Sami Khedira are all nursing minor injuries but are expected to be ready.
Loew looks likely to use a formation without a proper striker — the only one in the squad is Mario Gomez — with Mario Goetze perhaps playing the role of a "false nine" sometimes used by Spain.
After flying to Kazakhstan, the Germans return home immediately and play the same opponent four days later in Nuremberg.
Germany needs a win to get its World Cup qualifying back on track. In a stunning match, Germany threw away a 4-0 lead and had to settle for a 4-4 draw at home against Sweden in October.
The Germans still lead Group C by three points over Sweden and Loew said six points from two matches against 139th-ranked Kazakhstan already have been penciled in. Kazakhstan has one point.
"The result will depend on our attitude and condition. If we play up to our standards, we will win," Loew said. "We shouldn't think about other things (like the pitch), we have great players and we are a good team. We have quality to win such matches."
If it were up to Loew, his team should not be even playing such matches. He suggested this week that low-ranked teams such as Kazakhstan should play pre-qualifications ahead of major tournaments, comments not received well by the hosts.
Instead, Loew's team will have to adapt not only to a new pitch, but also to the very unusual midnight local time kick-off time, set so German television can show the game in prime time.
The players have been urged to keep their "inner clock" on German time.
The team will train late after arriving in Astana, then have dinner and go to bed around 4 a.m. local and try to sleep until noon.
"As long as the hotel has thick curtains, it shouldn't be a problem," Germany defender Per Mertesacker said.
Germany beat Kazakhstan 3-0 in 2010 on the same pitch and also won in Russia on artificial turf in 2009.