A country who perennially challenge for the World Cup even in off years (remember 2002?), Germany were always going to be regarded among the favourites to lift the trophy come mid-July. That said, a squad with a strong balance of experience and youth, containing some of the tournament’s biggest names, could really go all the way – even if the jury remains out on Joachim Löw, whose conservative selection policies may hold the team back on achieving ultimately glory following semi-final heart break in three of the last four major tournaments – losing the final in the other.
Their group is tough: containing fellow Europeans Portugal alongside the United States and Ghana, but if die Nationalelf come remotely close to reaching expectations, they’ll breeze through, boasting reasonably good records against all three opponents and arguably the most capable squad.
How they qualified
Germany overcame their Euro 2012 frustrations with gusto, reaching Brazil, as with many of the other European qualification group winners, unbeaten. With nine victories and a draw giving the Germans 28 points from a possible 30, a feat only equalled by the Dutch, Germany were joint earliest qualifiers in the UEFA region, their only slip-up coming on a rather ridiculous evening at the Olympiastadion in October 2012, where, having gone 4-0 up just before the hour mark against Sweden, they relinquished their lead in shocking style, Rasmus Elm netting on the stroke of full time.
That result aside, the qualification process was impressive in what was a potentially difficult group – while Germany were always expected to qualify, Sweden, Austria and Ireland were all potential banana skins, while Kazakhstan and the Faroe Islands weren’t to be underestimated. With 36 goals scored and 10 conceded – 7 of them against Sweden – Germany will go into the tournament with a belief that they can outscore any opponent, such is their firepower going forward.
Joachim Löw has been hailed and derided in equal measure following the release of his provisional 30 man squad (which has since been cut down to 26 heads), with some obvious oversights staying back in Germany, as well as some genuinely exciting young prospects and outside bets included in the squad.
The 26 man squad contains a flagrant lack of firepower in the forward regions – Löw only naming two nominal strikers in the aging Miroslav Klose and youngster Kevin Volland (who has played out on the wing for club Hoffenheim over the past couple of seasons), but its strength lies in a midfield contingent boasting the likes of Bastian Schweinsteiger, a fit-again Sami Khedira, Toni Kroos, Marco Reus and top goalscorer in qualifying, Mesut Özil. One surprise inclusion is Christoph Kramer of Borussia Mönchengladbach, who despite having an excellent season wasn’t included in the squad until a sterling performance for what was essentially a B Team against Poland earlier this month. Whether Kramer makes the 23 remains to be seen, but Löw has, in Kramer’s inclusion, shown a willingness to pick based on form rather than name, which could come in handy when the tournament itself begins.
The only other real areas for discussion are the backup goalkeeper spots – with Roman Weidenfeller and Ron-Robert Zieler getting the nod despite Bernd Leno and Marc-Andre ter Stegen both having better seasons – while there’s a slightly more positive selection headache for Löw at left back, as the manager decides whether to opt for Marcel Schmelzer or Erik Durm, who have both impressed at Dortmund this year.
26 man provisional squad
Goalkeepers: Manuel Neuer (Bayern München), Roman Weidenfeller (Borussia Dortmund), Ron-Robert Zieler (Hannover 96).
Defenders: Per Mertesacker (Arsenal), Jerome Boateng (Bayern München), Mats Hummels (Borussia Dortmund), Benedikt Höwedes (Schalke 04), Matthias Ginter (SC Freiburg), Shkodran Mustafi (Sampdoria), Philipp Lahm (Bayern München), Kevin Großkreutz (Borussia Dortmund), Erik Durm (Borussia Dortmund), Marcel Schmelzer (Borussia Dortmund).
Midfielders: Bastian Schweinsteiger (Bayern München), Sami Khedira (Real Madrid), Christoph Kramer (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Lukas Podolski (Arsenal), Julian Draxler (Schalke 04), Marco Reus (Borussia Dortmund), Toni Kroos (Bayern München), Thomas Müller (Bayern München), Mario Götze (Bayern München), Andre Schürrle (Chelsea).
Attackers: Miroslav Klose (Lazio), Kevin Volland (Hoffenheim).
Strengths and Weaknesses
The quality of the Germany squad is clear to see – they ooze world class quality across the pitch, with positive selection headaches in a variety of positions. Their midfield is rivalled by only Spain when it comes to the European game, while their first choice goalkeeper Manuel Neuer is one of the world’s best and has proven it on several international and continental outings.
While these strengths definitely outweigh the weaknesses, there are still problems. Germany tend to lapse defensively – as shown by their 10 goals conceded in qualifying – and this could be costly against top class opposition. Höwedes hasn’t started very many games for Schalke since Christmas, while Ginter hasn’t had a great season and Mustafi is something of an unknown quantity.
Klose and Volland are both talented players but the decision to drop Max Kruse – a proven Bundesliga goalscorer and a player who fits the Joachim Löw mould of striker – could potentially prove costly. Germany may react to this by playing a false-9 system in some games – Götze touted as the man to lead the line – but whether this pays off remains to be seen. On another note, it really ought to be asked why Klose and Podolski are anywhere near the squad, with Klose slightly too old to play at the top level and Podolski perhaps overshadowed by better younger players. They will however be important in maintaining squad harmony, their experience going before them, while Klose could break Ronaldo’s World Cup goalscoring record of 15.
Philipp Lahm: Lahm has enjoyed another excellent season and to date has nothing less than an illuminating record at international tournaments. Breaking onto the international scene just before Euro 2004, Lahm has all-important experience, and as captain will be important at passing that onto the younger players. Known for years as one of the best full backs in the game, Lahm’s game has developed further under Pep Guardiola, and it remains to be seen whether he’ll take up the midfield berth he’s relished for extended periods of 2013/2014, but it’s probably a safe bet that he’ll marshal the team from defence instead.
Bastian Schweinsteiger: It almost goes without saying that Schweinsteiger will be a bedrock of the German midfield, and as such can be the man who makes them tick. Whether this happens or not is up for debate – until recently, Schweinsteiger has had the reputation of going missing in big games and not leading teams very well. As a younger player, this was excusable, with the likes of Michael Ballack leading from the front – but Schweinsteiger now needs to prove that he can do it on the biggest stage and in doing so help out his captain for both club and country, the aforementioned Lahm.
Marco Reus: The youngest of the three, and until recently not even a guaranteed starter, Reus is the form player of the squad. Having racked up a total of 16 goals and 13 assists this season – mostly as a ‘Number 10’ for club side Dortmund – it will be interesting to see how Reus slots back into a slightly wider position than he’s been accustomed to in recent times, and indeed play without the sensational Robert Lewandowski. That said, despite Lahm and Schweinsteiger’s deserved reputation as bedrocks of the team, it will be how Reus plays in Brazil that could determine how far Germany go into the tournament – if goals aren’t coming from the front, and there’s every sign that they may not – Reus may have to take the goalscoring into his own hands.
Potential Starting XI
Anything but a confident display in the groups leading to qualification would be an abject failure for what is potentially the best German side to grace a side since – breathe it quietly – 1990. Indeed, a run to the semis is almost expected, while failure at the last hurdle might be accepted, but will be a disappointing stain on the careers of some of the older members of the squad – Klose, Podolski, Schweinsteiger and Lahm – who, despite immense talent, could be on their last World Cups and will really be gunning to win it.
With so many other bright teams also in the running, though, Germany will have to play well to progress all the way through, and thanks to a few weak areas in the squad, may leave to rue defensive mistakes and lack of cutting edge up top.
Predicted finish: Semi finals