Bumpy road ahead for Germany

Germany arrive at the World Cup as one of the favourites but beneath the impressive team sheet lies a team with doubts.

    Germany striker Miroslav Klose is one strike away from equalling a tournament record of 15 goals [GALLO/GETTY]
    Germany striker Miroslav Klose is one strike away from equalling a tournament record of 15 goals [GALLO/GETTY]

    Take a Mercedes, a white one, with black trim.

    It gleams in the sun as it seems to glide over bumps and potholes other cars might find troubling. From the pavement, pedestrians marvel as it purrs by, many wishing they had one of their own.

    But back in the garage that houses that Mercedes, where closer scrutiny is possible, many know better. The mudflaps on the rear wheels are a little scuffed, and the hood ornament – still standing proudly – nonetheless appears as if it might not stand up to a decent storm or two.

    In the engine, several parts are showing signs they might not be ready for the next journey, and the store room, at least for now, holds little in the way of spare parts.

    That Mercedes, of course, is Germany.

    On the back of a dominant qualifying campaign and a promising Euro 2012, and with many of their stars shining for their club teams in the biggest domestic competitions and the Champions League, Die Nationalmannschaft are a popular choice for many to lift the Jules Rimet trophy at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

    But injury issues that have plagued the team as the countdown to the tournament has dwindled from weeks to days would be troubling for any national team.

    Consequently, a once-over of what appeared to be a smooth-running machine reveals more than a crack or two to the chassis.

    Impressive pre-tournament form

    Germany trounced Armenia 6-1 in their last friendly before departing their shores. Behind them, they will leave a nation of fans harbouring more than a doubt or two concerning an injury-hit squad that appears unbalanced and bereft of both the firepower and form required to conquer Brazil.

    As is the way, it is the coach – Joachim Löw – at who the disapproval of most is directed. Löw and his support staff place great importance on team spirit and ethics, and tolerate none who may compromise that stance.

    It is impossible to know for sure, but that hard-line stance may explain the absence of some from the World Cup squad, like strikers Max Kruse, Pierre-Michel Lasogga, Mario Gomez, Kevin Volland and Stefan Kiessling. Kruse found out – after his late-night female visitor at the team’s hotel in England on international duty late in 2013 – that while good form can get you into Löw’s favour, only good behaviour can keep you there.

    People always blame Löw for not bringing in players earlier. I have another insight. I think Bundesliga teams should also be blamed.

    Karl-Heinz Riedle, Ex-Germany striker

    Miroslav Klose is the only player in Germany’s 2014 World Cup squad really born to lead the line. Klose became Germany’s all-time leading goal-scorer after finding the net in the rout of Armenia, but was only playing his first minutes of competitive football since May 18.

    When fit, Klose scored seven goals in 25 Serie A matches for Lazio last season. His form and injury problems, and a lack of confidence in other striking options, have seen Löw employ a false nine in his absence. Germany’s two leading contenders for that role in Brazil are Mario Götze and Thomas Müller, but neither have convinced there for country or club Bayern Munich.

    Germany had four forwards in their squad when they last won the World Cup, in Italy in 1990. Rudi Völler and Jürgen Klinsmann were firmly the first-choice pairing for coach Franz Beckenbauer, and showed why by scoring three goals each for the tournament.

    The man next in line was 24-year-old Karl-Heinz Riedle, who proved his own worth to Beckenbauer as a reliable substitute.

    “Let’s face it – the World Cup is just … days away, and Götze has proven he isn’t really a capable frontman even as a false nine so what’s Plan B,“ Riedle told Al Jazeera. “Löw brought in Klose, a 36-year-old washed-up striker who has been struggling with form and injuries all season. Dropping Volland is another big question mark.

    “(Former German midfielder) Dietmar Hamann is right about this. He said, ‘When the team is down by a goal or two and if there are just 10 minutes left, what can Löw do?’. Having a prolific, clinical centre forward can give confidence to others. So it's more than just a tactical reason but also a mental issue.”

    Stocks are thin at full-back too. Once-capped Erik Durm, 22, should be Germany’s left full-back after making the most of the injury enforced absence of Borussia Dortmund teammate Marcel Schmelzer, but questions remain on who will be on the right. Jerome Boateng appears the most likely, with captain Philipp Lahm – having returned to action against Armenia – set for a role in midfield rather than at full-back.

    That is if he considered ready for battle. Him, Klose, first-choice goal-keeper Manuel Neuer and veteran midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger are struggling for fitness. An ankle injury to Marco Reus against Armenia - thus ruling him out of the tournament - came as another headache for Löw.

    Germany's talanted midfield

    Not in doubt is the talent Germany still have in midfield. Toni Kroos and Sami Khedira combine skill and tenacity in the centre of the park, while Götze, Müller, Andre Schürrle, Mesut Özil and Julian Draxler comprise a group of attackers the envy of any nation.

    “People always blame Löw for not bringing in players earlier. I have another insight. I think Bundesliga teams should also be blamed,“ said Riedle, who is now based in Switzerland but also maintains a football academy in his Swabian hometown, Oberstaufen.

    The former Borussia Dortmund and Liverpool striker points to the trend of lower-table Bundesliga clubs using established forwards alone up front to “play it safe” in the battle for points.

    Meanwhile, having lost Robert Lewandowski to rivals Bayern Munich, title contenders Dortmund parted with around €30 million to bring in Ciro Immobile and Adrian Ramos. Different motives but the same result, says Riedle: It is the development of young German forwards that suffers. 

    “The last international-calibre (striker) Germany have produced was in the 2006-07 season - Mario Gomez, seven years ago.“

    Even as a former striker, however, Riedle has labelled Lahm’s ability to take his place in Germany’s midfield as the “biggest among all” issues for Löw.

    “I think the last-eight will be the best Germany can do.”

    Riedle’s prediction may come as a surprise to many outside Germany, but his concerns are mirrored by many of his countrymen. If Germany are to drive off into the Brazilian sunset with the Jules Rimet trophy, they will have to do it the hard way – potholes and all.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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