Despite being in charge of one of the top favourites at the World Cup, Germany coach Joachim Low is deeply worried.
He is worried about the long travel and jet lag; worried that Germany’s headquarters in Brazil are still far from completed; worried about the different kickoff times and the heat; but most of all, worried about the fitness of some of his top players.
Germany have been hit by a series of serious injuries and among the victims are some of the most experienced players on a young side.
“Three months before the World Cup we have eight, nine players who are out of rhythm, who have been injured for a long time. I am not sure that all will be back in time for the World Cup,” Low said. “That gives me headaches. I know that at the World Cup you need players who are strong physically.”
In Germany’s only friendly so far this year, Low’s team laboured to a lacklustre 1-0 win over Chile. With many players sidelined, Low called up four newcomers, including defender Shkodran Mustafi, who plays for Sampdoria and is hardly known in Germany.
Low is unlikely to pull another surprise like that when he announces his World Cup squad, but he has said that only healthy players will be invited.
“We need players who are physically fit and who can deal with the conditions in Brazil: the heat, long travel, unusual kickoff times, time difference,” Low said.
That means that Germany could be without such stars as Sami Khedira of Real Madrid, Mario Gomez of Fiorentina, Miroslav Klose of Lazio and Ilkay Gundogan of Borussia Dortmund.
Khedira has not played since tearing knee ligaments in November and Gundogan has sat out virtually the entire season because of back problems, leaving Germany’s midfield without two key players. Gomez missed five months and then re-injured his left knee, while Klose, the veteran at 35, has been set back by various injuries. That means Germany could be without their only two strikers.
Still, Low has plenty of talent at his disposal, but he is under pressure from the public to finally return from a major tournament with a title. Germany have not won a major title since the 1996 European Championship, and the last of their three World Cup victories came in 1990.
Germany played some of the most entertaining football at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa but lost in the semi-finals to Spain. Two years later, Germany lost in the semi-finals of Euro 2012 to Italy.
There was also an inexplicable 4-4 draw against Sweden in a World Cup qualifier when Germany squandered a 4-0 lead.
Thomas Mueller, one of the top scorers at the 2010 World Cup with five goals, leaves no doubt about Germany’s ambition despite the injury setbacks.
“I am going to Brazil with one goal, and that’s to win the title. Clearly,” Mueller said. “And that’s how the whole team feels.”
Germany depart for the World Cup as one of the teams to beat despite having a relatively young squad.
But because they made their international debuts early, many Germany players have dozens of national team games behind them.
Here are five players to watch:
Philipp Lahm – Captain since 2010, Philipp Lahm will be playing at his third World Cup and already has made 105 national team appearances.
The 29-year-old Lahm helped Bayern Munich sweep the Champions League, Bundesliga and DFB-Pokal last season and was a major figure as the club recaptured the championship this year.
As a defender, Lahm has been versatile, playing with equal success on the left or right flank, although he personally prefers the right side. He played both positions as necessary for both Bayern and the national team, until Bayern coach Pep Guardiola put him in the defensive midfield to fill a gap left by injuries.
Lahm excelled again.
Germany coach Joachim Low says he might consider Lahm for that position as well, if needed.
Manuel Neuer – Bayern Munich goalkeeper Manuel Neuer is Germany’s uncontested No 1.
Neuer became the starting goalkeeper before the 2010 World Cup when Rene Adler hurt his shoulder, and has stayed there ever since.
Neuer has conceded by far the fewest goals in the league, although that is also due to Bayern’s overall dominance. His main problem may be lack of action – he usually faces few shots in Bundesliga matches.
That could explain why he is sometimes caught off-guard by long-distance shots. Neuer’s other weakness is a hesitancy in coming off the line.
Thomas Mueller – Bayern Munich midfielder Thomas Mueller is another versatile player whose style of play makes him hard to figure out.
Mueller can play on the flanks but he can also roam as a “false nine.” That’s where he is probably at his most dangerous.
Relatively unknown internationally before the 2010 World Cup, Mueller made his name in South Africa, where he was the top scorer with five goals and three assists. He was also named the tournament’s best young player.
Still only 24, Mueller is already a mature player, having won everything there was to win with Bayern in the past two seasons.
Although his playing time has been somewhat reduced by Bayern coach Pep Guardiola’s rotations, Mueller is still the club’s best scorer after striker Mario Mandzukic.
Mario Goetze – Mario Goetze is the product of Germany’s exemplary youth programs and has gone through all junior selections.
A 22-year-old attacking midfielder, Goetze is considered the country’s most promising and exciting talent. He helped Borussia Dortmund win two consecutive Bundesliga championships, then stunned his childhood club by taking advantage of an opt-out clause in his contract to move to Bayern Munich.
Goetze had an inconspicuous start in Bayern, missing the early part of the season because of an ankle injury. He was eased into the team by coach Pep Guardiola, and still often comes off the bench in a star-studded squad.
Goetze’s pace, vision and dribbling skills, in addition to his scoring, have drawn comparisons to some of the game’s greats, such as Diego Maradona or Lionel Messi.
The World Cup could be an occasion for Goetze to prove he is worthy of the praise.
Germany coach Joachim Low has indicated his might use Goetze as a “hanging nine” if his injured strikers don’t recover in time.
Marco Reus – Once dubbed “Rolls Reus” for his pace, Marco Reus was voted Germany’s player of the year at the end of the 2011/12 season, when he also left Borussia Monchengladbach to return to childhood club Borussia Dortmund.
Reus is a fast and goal-scoring midfielder who has tremendous pace with the ball. He is also a big threat from set pieces, with excellent shooting technique. He is able to shoot and score with both feet.
Reus already has seven goals in 19 games for Germany. One of the leaders of his generation, Reus has a good understanding on the field with Mario Goetze from a common season in Dortmund and the pair of them could be Germany’s powerful weapon at the World Cup.