The third most succesful team in World Cup history after Brazil and Italy, Germany – including titles won by West Germany – has lifted the famous trophy three times, in 1954, 1974 and 1990. Despite perhaps not having had the strongest of teams in recent years, Die Mannschaft has arguably over-performed during the last two tournaments – not to mention finishing as runners-up at Euro 2008. In 2002 Rudi Voeller’s side battled their way to the final where they were eventually beaten by an excellent Brazil side, and in 2006 Jurgen Klinsmann led his team to the semi-finals only to be beaten by eventual winners Italy in extra time. In fact, the last time Germany failed to get to the quarter-finals was way back in 1978, a hugely impressive record.
The Germans go into the 2010 World Cup under manager Joachim “Jogi” Low having successfully navigated a qualifying group which saw them overcome a strong Russian side twice whilst scoring a total of 26 goals in their ten games. Throughout qualification Low stuck, for the most part, with his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation, occasionally reverting to a straight 4-4-2. Michael Ballack together with either Thomas Hitzlsperger or Simon Rolfes knit the midfield together, sitting in front of a relatively settled back four of Andreas Beck/Jerome Boateng, Per Mertesacker, Heiko Westermann and Phillip Lahm. Ahead of them a bank of three attacking midfielders – Bastian Schweinsteiger and Lukas Podolski out wide, with Werder Bremen’s hugely talented Mesut Ozil likely to play in the centre – support the lone striker, the prolific Miroslav Klose, with Mario Gomez probably set to be confined to a role as an impact substitute.
Despite possessing a strong team and having qualified without suffering defeat, Low’s team have suffered a number of setbacks in recent months. Last November, Robert Enke, who was in line to be Germany’s first-choice goalkeeper this summer, tragically committed suicide after suffering from a severe bout of depression, something which shocked and deeply saddened the football community the world over. There have also been disciplinary issues within the squad, the highly temperamental Lukas Podolski at the centre of most of them. In the team’s qualifier against Wales in Cardiff, Podolski was seen to remonstrate with Ballack, his captain, before slapping him in the face, something which, despite its obvious comedy, more than hints at rifts in the camp. The forward also recently attempted to fight a journalist who criticised his performances for FC Koln, an outburst that has seen the player reprimanded by the DFB.
Such issues will have undoubtedly have affected German preparations ahead of their trip to South Africa, but, such is Germany’s knack of producing their best football in major tournaments, it would hardly be surprising if the team were to emerge stronger and make yet another appearance in the latter stages of a World Cup.
Probable starting XI: Adler (Bayer Leverkusen); Beck (Hoffenheim), Westermann (Schalke 04), Mertesacker (Werder Bremen), Lahm (Bayern Munich); Ballack (Chelsea), Hitzlsperger (Lazio); Schweinsteiger (Bayern Munich), Ozil (Werder Bremen), Podolski (FC Koln); Klose (Bayern Munich)
The Road to South Africa: 1st in UEFA Group 4
World Ranking: 6th