Germany are Euro 2012 favourites. The Spanish are of course in the same lane but there appears to be a slight edge towards the Germans this year. It is a tag that they wear well and their rise has been well publicised over recent months. After many years of redeveloping the country stands on the precipice of reward as their efforts look to finally come to a successful fruition. This is in short down to the current crop of players, a group who many hail as the most complete German side in decades.
Their two test games against Switzerland and Israel will be the audition for Löw’s players, after which the squad will be cemented to the chosen 23. There is a certain resonance in that word chosen. For many players in other national sides being picked is a formality based on the lack of adequate quality surrounding them. Germany has the reverse of that issue. Their quality is overflowing, thus making Löw’s job far more difficult than the romance that so often surrounds it. His decision to pick the right players, as it is with every side, will affect the respective country’s chances. For Löw, picking or not picking in fact, the correct formula of world-class players is weighed down by the responsibility of great expectation. There are many who say it is a manager’s dream to have a plethora of quality to pick from and although it is certainly better than the opposite, it is still extremely demanding.
For Löw there are a few key decisions, most notably the goalkeeping issue. Despite an increase in the frequency of errors from Manuel Neuer, he remains most firmly the number one. Tim Wiese also seems a fairly cemented second choice but the battle for the third spot is between the young Gladbach goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen and ex-Manchester United player Ron-Robert Zieler. Both have excelled this season, arguably the former more domestically than the latter, something which will make the decision incredibly difficult for Löw. Zieler however had a fantastic debut (his only cap to date) for Germany, which may work in his favour over. I cannot see the real harm in dropping Wiese and picking both youngsters, such is their talent. The decision is far greater than simply filling the necessary squad gap but such is the quality of choice available to Löw that should Neuer get injured, it seems fair to suggest there would be a minimal reduction in goalkeeping ability. This is true of very few teams in the world, let alone in this European Championship.
In defence it seems likely that Badstuber and Hummels will pair-up at centre-back but Mertesacker is the other name in the hat for the centre-half starting spot. Long- term injury may hamper the Arsenal man’s aspirations but his experience may be enough to convince Löw to choose him. Left-back appears to be the only question mark for Germany. Jerome Boateng has been an adequate replacement but with the other defensive flank being occupied by captain and world-best Philipp Lahm, the difference is far too evident. Benedikt Höwedes has and can play there but is best at centre-back, a position Boateng has also spent more time occupying of late. Borussia Dortmund left-back Marcel Schmelzer has five caps for Germany but hasn’t quite made the spot his own despite being tipped to do so. He is most likely one of the question marks for Löw that will be answered over the next two games. Should Schmelzer, a man who has missed only five league games over the last two seasons, impress in the warm-up games this tournament could be his.
Midfield, the most player heavy area of the squad is frothing with ability. I expect Germany to play their favoured and so often excellently executed 4-2-3-1. It is the beloved formation in Germany, where the two deeper midfielders are employed to win back the ball, break up the attacking side’s movement in the process and represent the clichéd ‘engines’ of the team. For Germany the decision has so often, and will surely continue to be the world-class pairing of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira. Ilkay Gündogan has made the departure of Sahin from Dortmund a forgotten memory with his performances this year and as a result, deserves to be included. The other will surely be Toni Kroos’s after he proved his versatility for Bayern this year, playing in both an offensive and defensive midfield position. Both the Bender brothers may well miss out but if one were to make it through, it would arguably be Lars.
In the three trident shaped attacking half of the midfield, although the fantastic Mesut Özil will most definitely hold the central attacking role (with Götze, despite a lack of club playing time due to injury, seen as the second choice), it is in the wings where the ambiguity lies. Thomas Müller is a workhorse and clearly has international tournament scoring pedigree but what of Marco Reus? The man has driven Gladbach into a Champions-League spot this year with 18 goals and 11 assists and has secured himself a transfer to champions Borussia Dortmund (where he will do the same to Kagawa as Gündogan did to Sahin – mark my words). It seems more likely Löw would favour Reus in a counter-attacking situation due to the winger’s devastating dribbling execution, whereas Müller represents a more balanced choice. Furthermore, the enigmatic and London-bound Lukas Podolski is famed for excelling at national level, even if disappointing at club level, and therefore poses yet another query for Löw. Draxler may well end up excluded as well, which shouldn’t dishearten him because he is still extremely young. He is most likely competing against Andre Schürrle, who has been disappointing and far too inconsistent for Bayer Leverkusen this year but poses a potentially lethal super-sub threat, something aptly named joker in German.
Either Mario Gomez or the legendary Miroslav Klose will spearhead the team, with the latter struggling for fitness of late. Gomez came under heavy criticism for his Champions League final performance and although he undoubtedly should have scored on at least two occasions, he still finished second highest goal-scorer in the competition (behind Messi). The man is a real handful to mark, which is why credit should be given to Cahill for his performance that evening, and does score, despite what some may have seen. Lionel Messi came under some criticism for missing that penalty against Chelsea but the man has scored 72 goals this season. As much as the ‘big-game’ argument is valid, it is necessary to add some perspective to a player’s performance. Teams are assessed on the basis of their season, yet players seem to be being judged on the basis of one or two games of late and Gomez is the prime example of that. As for his battle with Klose, it once again depends on Löw’s game- plan. I expect him to opt for Klose if he is fully fit, simply because Gomez is a more appropriate substitute but the opposition will most definitely play a part in selection.
Each of these battles highlights the breadth in quality in this Germany squad. Their starting eleven has seven world-class players, with Hummels very close to becoming the eighth. Their depth, on the whole, is only short of reaching that echelon due to a lack of experience on the international stage, not because of ability. How many teams have someone of Mario Götze’s quality as a replacement for Mesut Özil? Quite. The word world-class is over-used, much like Alan Hansen’s epidemic use of the word ‘unbelievable’ (often for fairly believable events) but in Germany’s case, it most definitely is applicable.
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