Germany enter the 2014 World Cup as one of the favorites, but first they must survive possibly the toughest group in the tournament.
Germany had few troubles advancing to the World Cup finals, as they took care of their opposition in UEFA’s Group C with only one draw and no losses. Besides the 4-4 draw with Sweden, the closest match was a 2-1 victory over Austria in Vienna. All told, Die Mannschaft dominated a group that had two potential qualifiers in Sweden and Ireland which reaffirmed their place as favorites for this tournament.
Germany has won three World Cups and with their incredible depth, a fourth is not unexpected. However, a number of challenges stand in their way, including a daunting travel schedule within the group, a more difficult potential schedule than their main competitors, a climate much different than the one they are used to in Europe, and a recent history of being good but not quite good enough.
Coach: Joachim Loew
The man on the touchline is Joachim Loew. Stylish and brilliant, Low is possibly the best manager in this tournament, which seems unfair given the talent he has at his disposal. He made a name for himself as an assistant to Jurgen Klinsmann in the 2006 World Cup.
Since taking over after that competition, the results in major tournaments have been impressive: finalists in Euro 2008, third place in World Cup 2010, and semi-finalists at Euro 2012. However, after ten years of talk of their quality, Germany has not won an actual title so the pressure may be on Low.
The depth of talent means that Loew has some flexibility in how he structures his team. However, their base formation likely will be 4-2-3-1 with 35-year-old Miroslav Klose up top. The Lazio forward is playing in his fourth World Cup and needs just two goals to pass (Brazil’s) Ronaldo as the tournament’s leading scorer.
The midfield is so deep that any combination of up to ten players is possible. This may be necessary as a few key German are dealing with nagging injuries. Bastian Schweinsteigerand Sami Khedira have been dealing with injuries all season. If they are not fit, then Germany can run out Toni Kroos, maybe the most sought after player in the summer transfer window. In front of the deeper-lying midfielders could be Mesut Ozil, Thomas Muller and Marco Reus which will give any squad nightmares.
The weakness of this team could be its backline, but even that is impressive. Per Mertesacker and Mats Hummels are fast but both are good at positioning themselves correctly. Philipp Lahm when fully healthy is world class on the right but the left side has a few different options.
Key Player: Manuel Neuer
The 28-year-old keeper won a Euro U-21 title and has a ton of silverware from Bayern, so he knows how to keep composed in tight games. He is the world’s best keeper, and in a tournament where heat and travel will wear teams down, his shot-stopping ability (especially in matches that go to penalties) will be key. He will also have to position his backline which, as we mentioned, may pose some match-up problems.
One to Watch: Erik Durm
The 22-year-old got his first senior cap in Monday’s friendly against Cameroon. Despite his inexperience, he was selected for the 23-man-squad over his Borussia Dortmund teammate Marcel Schmelzer and could hold down the starting left-back spot. This is a critical position considering Germany’s group, so how the youngster handles himself if called upon could be critical.
How Far Can Germany Go?
All the way. Despite nagging injuries, Germany has the depth and overall skill to simply outclass many of the teams they will face.
As mentioned in the beginning, however, there are some concerns. The travel schedule for Group G is brutal and with the humidity and heat well above what most of these players experience in Europe, their stamina after long European seasons may come into play especially against a fresher side. There is a reason a European squad has never won a South American World Cup.
Additionally, as much as the media loves to talk about Germany’s depth and talent. arguably the senior squad has failed to live up to that potential. How will these expectations weigh on this team?
The draw helps Germany immensely. Even if they slip up in the group stage and finish second, they will not face a team equal in talent to them until potentially Argentina in the quarter-finals. Popular trendy pick Belgium could be their Round of 16 opponent if they finish second, which could be tough, but they are not facing nearly the same roadblocks as Spain, Italy, or Brazil.
If they win the group, the stage is set for them to face the winner of Netherlands/Spain and Brazil, which puts them two wins away from a trophy. How they deal with their ghosts and the atmosphere will see if they can finally capture their illusive goal.