The continual contractual disruption surrounding Germany coach, Joachim Low, means this year the Nationalmannschaft enter the World Cup under somewhat of a cloud. Couple this with the loss of injured captain, Michael Ballack, and the mental trauma effecting pre-tournament preparations begins to stock up. Whether they up their game as usual is still anyone’s guess. However, to achieve this leaders must develop and stars need to be born. And with this year’s German squad compiled completely by Bundesliga members, a clear indication of where German football stands will emerge. So, without further hesitation let’s run through the main candidates likely to spearhead Germany’s dream of World Cup number four.
1. Bastian Schweinsteiger
The Bayern Munich star seems to have been round forever, and after accumulating 74 caps is set to take part in his fourth major finals aged just 25. Facing a fight to keep his place in the Munich starting XI since the arrival of Arjen Robben last summer, Louis Van Gaal ingeniously moved Schweinsteiger from the right side of midfield into the centre. A move many consider the catalyst for Bayern’s run to the Champions League final and domestic title.
The burden of expectation will weigh heavily on Schweinsteiger in South Africa, especially considering Ballacks’s absense. Despite this, the accomplished midfielder should hold the experience to seize the initiative in a big-game arena. Mostly playing off his right foot, Schweinsteiger’s key attributes include delivering pin-point crosses from both flanks or accurate shooting from anywhere within 25-yards of goal. No slouch in the tackle either, his importance cannot be underestimated. Indeed, Schweinsteiger’s form may well decide whether the German bid falters or ignites.
2. Philip Lahm
Captain in the absence of Ballack, Lahm is another Bayern Munich star who’s amassed a staggering amount of caps at a young age – 64 at 26-years-old to be exact. A regular feature at full-back in the German team since Euro 2004, Lahm is best known for his scintillating strike against Costa Rica in the 2006 World Cup’s opening match. He went on to secure a place in the All Star Team of that tournament after a string of highly competant performances.
Now considered amongst the best full-backs in the world, Lahm’s individual talent stands out in an era where Germany are lacking in that area. Comfortable on either side of the full-back, though it’s likely to be the left he patrols in South Africa, Lahm loves to get forward. And his resourceful ability of cutting inside could well expose numerous defences. His own defensive attributes have improved steadily with experience, although his slightly light frame can be cause for concern.
3. Miroslav Klose
A century of caps could be reached in South Africa were the 32-year-old to see his team reach the semi-finals. Despite struggling for form this season and finding himself regularly left out of the Bayern Munich starting line-up, Klose holds a healthy appetite for tournament football. Bursting on the international scene at the 2002 World Cup he notched up five goals, all of which were headers. Repeating that feat four years later enabled him to finish top of the goalscoring charts at the competition. Klose requires six goals at this year’s festival to become the highest World Cup goalscorer of all time.
His dearth of first team action has not affected his status with the national team. And it’s coping with his ability in the air that will give many defenders sleepless nights. The forwards mobility in the final third is not to be shrugged at either. Very technically astute, Klose has a long and experienced partnership with fellow Polish born striker, Lucas Podolski. You need only think back to both World Cup 2006 and Euro 2008 to remember the amount of assists he provided the Koln striker. A return to those days is essential if Germany are to impact in 2010.
One to watch – Thomas Muller
With only one cap to his name and youth very much on his side, Muller has enjoyed a remarkable first season as a professional. Assisting Bayern Munich to the title and Champions League final, his 19 goals have resulted in a surprise call-up to the World Cup squad. He can be deployed anywhere from attacking midfielder, winger, striker or impact sub. Expectation will not weigh down the starlet and exuberant youthfulness, plus a knack of scoring goals, marks him out as one to keep an eye on in South Africa.
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