Nickname: The Mannschaft (best nickname ever)
Rankings: 6 (FIFA), 6 (SPI)
Elite Players: Philipp Lahm
Key Players: Bastian Schqeinsteiger, Michael Ballack, Miroslav Klose, Lukas Podolski, Mesut Ozil
History: Winners (1954, 1974, 1990) Finals (1966, 1982, 1986, 2002) Semifinals (1934, 1958, 1970, 2006)
Odds to Win: 12-1
“An appeal to fear never finds an echo in German hearts” – Otto von Bismarck
German soccer is very German. The ideal team is powerful and efficient, like it just rolled off the line in Zuffenhausen. With crisp passing and economical touches, they move the ball up the field like clockwork. German talent is seldom overwhelming, but with cohesion they extract every bit of it. The Germans have reached the finals of 13 major tournaments since 1954. In the last 14 World Cups, the Germans have missed the quarterfinals once.
Qualifying: Germany rolled through qualifying. They had an 8-0-2 record, outscoring opponents 26-5. Outside of a 3-3 slipup with Finland, that margin was 23-2. Coach Joachim Low got the best of Guus Hiddink in both home and away legs against Russia, the reason they, not Russia, received the automatic bid. The performance was awesome. The scary thing is they didn’t even play that well.
Coaching: Jurgen Klinsmann was the face of Germany’s 2006 team, but Joachim Low was the brains. He’s a motivator and an excellent tactician. He spurred a modest German team to the semifinals in 2006 and, without Klinsmann, to the Euro 2008 final. He’s made tough, unpopular decisions, such as dropping Torsten Frings. He may need to make more of them, as many key players from the past two tournaments have been either aging or atrocious at club level.
All the Young Dudes: The Germans are loaded with young talent. Since 2006, they have won championships at the U-17, U-19 and U-21 level. Low called up 15 players 23 or younger to the preliminary squad. Werder Bremen attackers Mesut Ozil and Marko Marin, both 21, have been blooded extensively in the national team already. Holger Badstuber, 21, and Thomas Mueller, 20, have been key performers for a Bayern Munich side about to appear in the Champions League final. Three or four other precocious youngsters could make a case to be in the Starting XI. The Germans are not favorites in this tournament, but almost certainly will be in 2012 and 2014.
Squad: The Germans do not know their starting goalkeeper. Oliver Kahn and Jens Lehmann dominated the position well into their late thirties. Their replacement Robert Enke tragically committed suicide last November. His replacement Rene Adler has been ruled out with a rib injury. The four goalkeepers in the preliminary squad have 7 caps combined. The choice should be between Bremen’s Tim Wiese and Schalke’s Manuel Neuer.
Philipp Lahm is Germany’s best player. He’s solid defensively at either fullback position and great on the ball, but the rest of the back four is worrisome. Mertesacker and Westermann were paired in the middle during qualifying, but were slow and gaffe prone. Westermann could be replaced by Serdar Tasci who started against Argentina. Hamburg 21-year-old Jerome Boateng should start on the left. The German back four should be tolerable against second-tier opposition, but could be a liability against teams with speed, as they were in the Euro 2008 final against Spain.
Germany played a 4-4-2 in the last two tournaments, but has switched to a 4-5-1 of late, because they have weak strikers and a number of good attacking midfielders.
Michael Ballack will play in a holding role. He’s no longer the box to box force he was in his youth, though he’s still Matt Damon’s doppelganger. Bastian Schweinsteiger, who has had an excellent season for Bayern, will join him in the middle with Rolfes missing out due to injury. The rest of the midfield should include Mesut Ozil, Thomas Muller and Lukas Podolski supporting Miroslav Klose.
Klose and Podolski have combined for three goals in the Bundesliga this season. Without their names, neither would have made the preliminary squad. If either can rediscover a semblance of their past national team form, Germany will be far more dangerous.
Conclusion: The Germans are serial overachievers. Germany drew perhaps the toughest group top to bottom, but as the best team they should advance. Winning the group would likely draw them the USA in the Round of 16, which should be a win. Beyond that, they could have trouble. The Germans have a lot of inexperience and the experienced players they do have are either past it or in poor form. On paper, it’s hard to see them reaching the semifinal or the final, but it was equally hard in 2006.
Interesting Fact: Germans drink an average of 119 liters of beer per year per person, second only to the Irish.
Group A: South Africa, Mexico, Uruguay, France
Group B: Argentina, Nigeria, South Korea, Greece
Group C: England, United States, Slovenia, Algeria
Group D: Germany, Australia, Serbia, Ghana
Group E: Netherlands, Denmark, Japan, Cameroon
Group F: Italy, Paraguay, New Zealand, Slovakia
Group G: Brazil, North Korea, Ivory Coast, Portugal
Group H: Spain, Switzerland, Honduras, Chile