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World Cup 2014 Group G Previews: Germany

SOCCER: World Cup-England vs Germany

Team: Germany
Group: G
Schedule: June 16 vs. Portugal; June 21 vs. Ghana; June 26 vs. United States
World Cup Record: 60-20-19 (Winners 1954, 1974, 1990 as West Germany)
Qualifying Form: Germany strolled through its UEFA qualifying group with a 9-0-1 record, out-scoring opponents 36-10. The one hiccup was a bizarre 4-4 draw against Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Sweden.

Manager: Joachim Löw is a sartorial man who knows his stuff whether it be which tailored, €189 deep v tee-shirt to wear on a given day or which a deep-lying midfielder to pencil into his starting XI. Retroactively, Löw’s received most of the credit for the Jurgen Klinsmann-managed Germany team that finished third on home soil at the 2006 World Cup. Löw will also be the target of roughly 49,812 (evergreen) Sprockets jokes on Twitter during the tournament.

Player to Watch: Bastian Schweinsteiger. Now 29 years old this is probably his last, best chance to shine brightly at the World Cup. He’s not quite 100 percent after an injury-filled season at Bayern Munich. When healthy, Schweinsteiger sits back and plays the key role in the center of the field that allows the rest of the German midfield to interchange. Germany have options all over the midfield, except a like-for-like swap for Schweinsteiger.

Once upon a time Schweinsteiger’s skills were so strong they allowed him to defeat a monster comprised of ‘Bifi’ processed meat snacks.

Tactics/Style: Nuanced. In theory Germany at the 2014 World Cup is going to be the next evolution of Spain’s tiki-taka — as in death by a thousand short passes, playing without a recognized striker, etc. (Unrelated: if you hear someone use the term “false nine” in casual conversation you’re allowed to smack them in the face with impunity.)

Germany have no less than 10 midfield players: Sami Khedira, Schweinsteiger, Mesut Özil, André Schürrle, Lukas Podolski, Thomas Müller, Julian Draxler, Toni Kroos, Mario Götze and Marco Reus who’d merit starting consideration for every team in the world and yet it still might be forced to play either Kevin Großkreutz or Jérôme Boateng out of position at left back — so there is an Achilles Heel in this lineup.

In goal Manuel Neuer is considered, along with Thibault Courtois, as the best at his position in the world at the moment. Neither Per Mertesacker or Mats Hummels are the fleetest of foot in defense, meaning Neuer may have to play a sweeper-keeper role if teams break quickly on the counter against Germany. His decision-making coming off his line will be nearly as important as his shot-stopping ability.

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WAG of Note: Sara Brandner, Schweinsteiger’s longtime girlfriend wears the unofficial WAG’s captain’s armband in Brazil.

The United States’ best-case scenario vs. Germany (at the World Cup): By the final Group G match Germany will have already booked a place into the Round of 16, resting some of its key personnel leaving the door open for Klinsmann’s team to eek out a result.

The United States’ worst-case scenario vs. Germany (at the World Cup): Germany stumbles vs. Portugal and or Ghana and needs the match vs. the U.S. — creating a scenario where it dominated possession to the tune of 70 percent and the Americans muster but one shot. Klinsmann’s former players such as Schweinsteiger and Lahm revel in heaping misery on their former coach, for whom there is no love lost.

Odds of winning: 6-to-1

Miscellany: EA Sports “FIFA” simulation picked Germany to win the tournament and we all know you can’t argue with the machines. … GermanSoccerPlayersLookingAwkwardWearingBaseballCaps is a Tumblr me and like three other people might enjoy. … Gotze/Reus is probably the World Cup’s No. 1 “bromance.” … Germany is/was so confident of its World Cup chances it built its own tropical beach resort for the duration of the tournament. … The U.S. defeated Germany 4-3 last May in Washington, D.C. The German team was dubbed either a “B” or “C” level since the game took place days after the Champions League final between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. That said, starters from that game: Schürrle, Mertesacker, Podolski, Klose and Benedikt Höwedes did make the final German roster for Brazil. … Germany’s 1994 away jerseys might be among the most “hipster” of all time and are, actually, nicer than the 2014 version. … Here’s a completely non-relevant link to Beerfest that will save anyone commenting on this post about 3.4 seconds of search time. … Torsten Frings handball: #neverforget.

M*A*S*H: When healthy, a midfield anchored by Schweinsteiger and Khedira is the perfect complement to the four attackers in front. Both are capable on defense, can win headers and play balls forward. Yet each player enters Brazil less than 100 percent. Khedira rushed back from a knee ligament tear to play — well labor — in the Champions League final for Real Madrid, six months after the injury. Schweinsteiger, as noted, isn’t quite 100 percent. If either go down it means Löw would be forced to move Lahm into the midfield, changing the balance of the team greatly. Injuries kept Borussia Dortmund’s talented Ilkay Gündogan from the provisional roster, denying Löw another option. Neuer and Miroslav Klose are also dealing with pre-tournament nagging injuries.

Too Many Chefs (in the Midfield?): Özil, Schürrle, Podolski, Müller, Draxler, Kroos, Götze and Reus is an embarrassment of riches for any team … but could it cause too much tinkering? For all the possession and passing these players are capable of, someone — anyone– will have to be incisive in front of goal for Germany. If Löw doesn’t want to use the 36-year-old Klose it could fall to Poldolski — much better goals-wise at the international level than for Arsenal — or  Müller, who seemingly is always in the right place at the right time. As we’ve seen time and time again with international soccer, it’s not always placing the best 11 players on the field and expecting to win, it’s finding the best 11 that work in concert with each other. Three games in the Group Stage, regardless of the talent, skill and pedigree, doesn’t allow for much time to work out the kinks if stuff doesn’t click immediately.

Still the One: Klose, as mentioned previously, is the only recognized striker on Germany’s World Cup team with Mario Gomez et al left home. The tournament will be his fourth and he enters it with 14 lifetime World Cup goals — one behind Ronaldo for first place all-time.

Klose is an odd case. Despite his proficiency for club and country over the years, nobody is probably printing up a t-shirt that reads, “I saw Miroslav Klose play’ (in German, naturally). That’s not a knock on Klose, but we don’t tend to lionize players who score goals like him — off-balance headers, tap-ins, random rebounds in the box, etc. even if they win games will as much frequency as the spectacular.

Given the make-up of the German team in 2014, even at 36 years old Klose still might have a role to play. It might be unsexy and whatnot, but there’s something to be said about players who make the most of the chances they are given.

Requisite Simpsons Reference: The classic Golden Era episode Burns Verkaufen der Kraftwerk first aired on Dec. 5, 1991 — that’s before German players Matthias Ginter, Erik Drum, Draxler and Götze were born.

Last word: Germany’s last four major tournaments ended with a loss to Italy in the 2006 World Cup semifinals, a loss to Spain in the Euro 2008 final, another loss to Spain in the 2010 World Cup semifinals and then a surprise loss to Italy at the Euro 2012 semifinals. Logic says Germany — which hasn’t won anything since the 1996 Euro — are due, especially if it avoids Spain or Italy. By the same token, Germany coud be “due” an early hiccup — a potential quarterfinals match with France could be tricky, for one. Oddsmakers and pundits have installed Germany as a 2014 favorite the minute the 2010 tournament ended. In turn the German team has bought into this hype. They’re in for a potential letdown in Brazil.

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