Despite being tipped as one of the favorites and being the most consistent performers at the World Cup for the last 2 decades, there is a sense of now or never in the German camp. Legends such as Rummenigge, Beckenbauer and Hoeness have all spoken out in the build-up to Brazil 2014 echoing one emotion – Its high time the ‘ Die Mannschaft’ bring the World Cup home.
Its not for the lack of quality in the German performances over the years as it is a lack of lady-luck when it comes to the ultimate knock-out stages of World’s largest Football spectacle. Whether its been the two injury time goals from Italy, eventual World Cup winners of 2006 or a narrow 0-1 loss to current World Cup holders Spain in South Africa, 2010; German fans have had to settle for two consecutive Bronze medal finishes despite playing some of the most breath-taking football in both the tournament. Since Andreas Brehme’s solitary goal in the final of 1990 against Diego Maradona’s Argentina, the final against a rampant Brazil in Korea-Japan, 2002 have been as close as Germany have come to lifting the World Cup.
German boss Joachim Loew has picked 26 players for the national team camp in northern Italy and the friendlies prior to the World Cup giving opportunities to youngsters like Shkodran Mustafi, Erik Durm, Kevin Volland and Christoph Kramer to build on their impressive domestic campaigns. However, Loew has admitted most recently that he has in mind the 3 players he would not be taking to Brazil.
Unfortunately, youngsters Erik Durm, Christoph Kramer, Matthias Ginter and Kevin Volland, who have only earned their first calls earlier this year, are most likely to be left out. Despite the imminent exclusion, Loew was full of praise for them at a recent press conference. Admitting to having a dilemma to pick just 23 Joachim Loew said, “The young players, like Durm and Volland, are making a very, very good impression.” Speaking of central midfielder Christoph Kramers chances to be on the plane to Brazil Loew said, “(Kramer’s) chances are good too. He’s very secure on the ball, always in a position to receive it and he’s top fit and active.”
However, the headache for Loew doesn’t just end there. Having already lost the versatile Lars Bender to a thigh injury, Germany face an uncharacteristic injury crisis just 2 weeks prior to the World Cup.
Among the injured are Bayern Munich trio – Manuel Neuer, Phillip Lahm and Bastian Schweinstager; who quite simply are the most experienced player in the squad and Marcel Schmelzer of Borussia Dortmund.
Shot-stopper – Manuel Neuer
The Bayern Munich and Germany no. 1 has firmly established himself between the sticks in the national side over the last 6 years. Having damaged ligaments in his right shoulder in Bayern’s German Cup final win over Borussia Dortmund in Berlin, the 28-year old has just begun light training in the last couple of days. Regarded as one of the best goal-keepers in the world, the Bayern Munich shot-stopper has collected a staggering 25 clean-sheets in his 51 appearances this season. Despite having more than capable back-up in the form of Roman Weidenfeller of Borussia Dortmund and Hannover’s Ron-Robert Zieler, Neuer’s commanding presence and leadership from goal will be a sore miss if the former Schalke man doesn’t get fit before the opener versus Portugal.
Captain Marvel – Phillip Lahm
German skipper Phillip Lahm is also one of the casualties as the 30-year old versatile full-back is still recovering from an ankle injury that he picked up while on club duty. Lahm has had an interesting first season under new Bayern boss Pep Guardiola having essayed a new role for his club. The former VfB Stuttgart man has been deployed as a defensive midfielder quite often this season and Lahm quite effectively assisted 9 goals and got a goal for himself too. Germany’s inspirational Captain Marvel is irreplaceable tactically and influentially. Facing a test of fitness, the whole of Germany holds its breath in anticipation.
Midfield Marshal – Bastian Schweinstager
The third and arguably the biggest cause of concern for Joachim Loew is the fitness of mercurial midfielder Bastian Schweinstager. The 29-year-old will celebrate 10 years in the Germany national team colours just before the opener against Portugal on June 16, with the Bayern midfield man already having won his 101st cap in the 1-0 friendly win over Chile in March. A priceless defensive midfielder for club and country, Schweinsteiger’s appearances for Bayern Munich this season have been severely affected by a trio of injuries. During the pre-season ankle surgeries hampered him which resulted in him playing just 16 times for the German champs in their first 27 games. Schweinstager later suffered an inflamed knee ligament at a training camp in Qatar in January before finally being on the receiving end taking a nasty knock towards the end of the domestic campaign. Joachim Loew’s trusted midfield-man admitted in a recent television interview that it’s a long way to regaining 100% fitness but it’s one he strives to reach in double quick time.
Marcel Schmelzer of Borussia Dortmund is another player who has suffered an injury-ravaged season. Despite featuring just 28 times for his club this season, Schmelzer remains an integral part of the German set-up and arguably as the only naturally left-footed full-back, it’s of utmost importance that the 26-year old gets fit right in time before the showdown in Brazil.
Joachim Loew has put his faith in the players he trusts and expects the German stalwarts to regain their fitness well before facing Portugal. However, their lack of match-practise may prove to be a cause of concern for the German boss. Despite all the injury concerns and off-field incidents, the Germans are still tipped to be an opposition nobody wants to face in Brazil.