Ahead of the restart of the Bundesliga, Stephan Uersfeld picks out 10 players who have something to prove before the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Bastian Schweinsteiger, Bayern Munich
It seems that Schweinsteiger has been around forever. The 29-year-old German Footballer of the Year debuted for Germany in 2004, and has played in three European Championships and two World Cups. Brazil 2014 will most likely be Schweinsteiger's last shot on the world stage. Having collected all major titles in club football, he finally wants to lift a trophy with Germany.
But going into the World Cup year, Schweinsteiger is one of quite a few doubts for Germany coach Joachim Loew. Two ankle operations since the Treble summer of 2013 have left Germany wondering whether their holding midfielder will return to form in time for the World Cup. "He's been out for two months, he needs time," Pep Guardiola has stated.
But Schweinsteiger also needs match practice and full fitness to be able to fill the void left by Sami Khedira's knee injury. With Dortmund's Ilkay Gundogan also struggling for fitness, Schweinsteiger's teammate Philipp Lahm could take on the role -- as he has with Bayern under Guardiola. That, however, would leave Loew looking for a right-back.
Kevin Grosskreutz, Borussia Dortmund
Loew could find that right-back in Dortmund's Kevin Grosskreutz, who has been one of the few players to shine in a poor season for Borussia Dortmund. Amid all the transfer rumours, injury problems, home defeats and fan distractions, Dortmund-born Grosskreutz has put in great performances as Lukasz Piszczek's replacement. He was on target in the 2-1 win at Marseille that took Dortmund from the Europa League to the top of their Champions League group three minutes from time. Piszczek's return from injury will allow Grosskreutz to prove his versatility in other positions -- which could aid his bid for a surprise call into the Germany squad for the finals.
Kevin-Prince Boateng, FC Schalke 04
Kevin-Prince Boateng left Germany as persona non grata in 2009 after opting to play for Ghana instead of Germany, not to mention being responsible for the tackle which ended Michael Ballack's Germany career shortly before the 2010 World Cup. He stopped talking to his brother, Jerome Boateng, and impressed during the group-stage game against Germany, then joined AC Milan and became a star by standing up against racism. After returning to Germany with Schalke he is finally getting the credit one of Germany's greatest football personalities deserves.
Without Boateng, Schalke would be in a far worse position than they are this season and they still have a chance of securing another year of Champions League football. The return to fitness of forward Klaas-Jan Huntelaar should mean that the Prince will finally find his place in central midfield rather than in an advanced role. Though he needs to overcome ongoing knee problems, the "17 finals" Schalke must play and another clash with his brother Jerome at the World Cup make Boateng one of the most interesting players to watch in the Rueckrunde.
Ji Dong-Won, FC Augsburg
What makes a Sunderland fringe player who joined FC Augsburg, a team virtually unknown outside of Germany, one of the 10 men to watch in Bundesliga? Not only the fact the South Korea international has already left his mark on FC Augsburg in a loan spell 12 months ago, when the versatile attacking player became one of the key players in the Bavarians' return from the dead to Bundesliga survival. With Ji, Augsburg closed a 10-point gap and jumped over the line on the final day of the season.
Ji now is back at Augsburg, desperate for first-team football ahead of the World Cup finals in Brazil. It is a short-term deal and after the World Cup he will surprisingly move on to Borussia Dortmund -- no matter if he shows his Sunderland face or his 2013 Augsburg form.
Kevin Volland, TSG Hoffenheim
The TSG Hoffenheim attacker has struck seven goals and created a further four during the first half of the season. Mainly used as right-sided midfielder in Hoffenheim coach Markus Gisdol's 4-2-3-1 system, Volland, 21, can also play in all other positions in the attacking line of four.
At 1.79 meters he might not be the tallest, but his ability to drive his team forward, his concentrated dribbling and his final passes into the box make the former 1860 Munich player one of the most exciting up and coming players in Germany. He has already attracted interest from the big clubs, with both Bayern and Dortmund linked with the Germany under-21 international, who still has an outside chance of being called up by Joachim Loew.
John Anthony Brooks, Hertha BSC
In the 2012-13 season Brooks, 20, had been one of Hertha Berlin's key players as they returned to the German top flight after only one season with games against the likes of SV Sandhausen. Hertha coach Jos Luhukay had relied heavily on the Berlin-born son of a U.S. serviceman.
Ahead of the new season, in the summer of 2013, Brooks opted to follow U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann's call instead of taking the Germany under-21 path to, maybe, someday becoming a fully-fledged international. Brooks debuted for the U.S. in August 2013, but has, until now, not enjoyed the best maiden season in the Bundesliga. Injuries, and a slump in form, have seen Brooks' playing time limited to only eight games, six of them all coming at the start of the season.
Brooks has also been sidelined with knee problems throughout the important midseason training in January, and he is facing a difficult task to return to the Hertha BSC starting XI.
Adrian Ramos, Hertha BSC
It has been a much better season for Brooks' teammate Adrian Ramos. The Colombian forward has struck 11 goals, joining Dortmund's Robert Lewandowski at the top of the Bundesliga scoring charts.
Ramos joined Hertha BSC on the heels of his debut for Colombia against Argentina in the summer of 2009. But, with the Berliners yo-yoing between the first and the second tier in recent years, Ramos has not been called up to the Colombia national team in more than two years, and has not had any contact with coach Jose Pekerman.
If Ramos can keep his form in the Bundesliga, the 28-year-old has to be a possible replacement for Radamel Falcao if the Monaco star fails to recover from the knee injury he suffered this week. Under contract at Hertha until 2015, a solid Rueckrunde will also strengthen Ramos' position in contract talks, and possibly also suitors from the Premier League.
Maximilian Arnold, VfL Wolfsburg
The 2014 World Cup will surely come too early for Wolfsburg midfielder Maxi Arnold. But the 19-year-old has been one of the shooting stars in Bundesliga this season. Arnold broke into Wolfsburg's starting XI nine games into the season, and has since orchestrated their climb into European qualification positions, taking the central midfield position from Brazilian Diego.
Hailed as the "new Ozil" by kicker and praised as "one of the biggest talents in Bundesliga" by Dortmund coach Juergen Klopp, Arnold has, so far, not lost touch with reality. "I don't have a career plan," Arnold says and, in the ambitious Wolfsburg team, looks like being at the right place at the right time means that he can do without one for quite some time. He has still to win experience at on the European stage so perhaps by the 2018 World Cup he will be challenging Ozil for a spot on the Germany team.
Pierre-Michel Lasogga, Hamburger SV
In the future, Maxi Arnold might be joined by Hamburg's Pierre-Michel Lasogga, 22, at Wolfsburg and in the Germany team. Lasogga joined Hamburg on loan from Hertha in the summer and has enjoyed an impressive season so far. The forward has scored nine goals in 13 games, and has not altogether given up hope of being part of the Germany squad in Brazil.
"That's a big dream and a great wish of mine. You never know in football," Lasogga said about his World Cup chances. At the end of the season, Lasogga could return to Hertha, but Hamburg also want him to stay while Wolfsburg are looking for an attacker to continue their bid to match the likes of Leverkusen, Dortmund and, maybe, Bayern Munich.
Granit Xhaka, Borussia Moenchengladbach
It took Granit Xhaka a year to arrive in Bundesliga. The former FC Basel midfielder had some trouble adjusting to the pace of the German game and spent too much time in the media limelight. During his first year in Bundesliga, Xhaka might have clocked up 22 appearances, but the holding midfielder only fought his way into the team when he appeared to be on his way out of Bundesliga late last season.
It has been entirely different story for the Switzerland international this season. He is working hard in Gladbach's holding midfield, and has hugely benefited from Lucien Favre's signings of Raffael and Max Kruse. The deep-lying playmaker says: "My game is simpler than last season. I wanted to be everywhere, and that was my mistake."
His superb form could take him into the Champions League with Borussia Moenchengladbach, and to a successful World Cup with Switzerland. "It's a dream come true for me," he says. "Every young lad wants to play at the World Cup, and then it's also in Brazil." Should Xhaka stay fit, 2014 could be his year.