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Team preview: Germany

June 2, 2010
By Gus Martins
Special to ESPN.com
(Archive)

Semifinalists as World Cup hosts four years ago, Germany finds itself in a bit of a transitional phase, welcoming young players and heading to South Africa without its veteran team leader, Michael Ballack, who injured ankle ligaments in last month's FA Cup final with Chelsea.

One of the world's most prolific teams, Germany is facing some difficulties in attack as the darling forwards of 2006 are not in great form. Miroslav Klose (Bayern Munich) has been on the bench for the Bundesliga champions, and Lukas Podolski (Cologne) has scored just three goals this season. The hope is that coach Joachim Low's belief in the players can bring back their confidence to help lead Germany to another strong World Cup run.

Coach: Joachim Low

An assistant to Juergen Klinsmann four years ago, Low was considered a solid, behind-the-scenes man whose coaching acumen turned Klinsmann into a success. He led Germany to the European Championship finals two years ago, losing 1-0 to Spain. Organization, the hallmark of German success through the decades, is Low's trademark. The coach also has an eye for talent and has had success during a brief club coaching career at VFB Stuttgart, Turkish clubs Fenerbache, Adanaspor and Austria Wien.

Style of play

Germany is a very organized team but not defensive in nature. Noted for having a "vertical" (direct) playing style aimed at getting players forward while always "trying to get their chances,'' most likely in a 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1. While not considered as highly technical as other top teams, Germany relies on strength, athleticism and a mental toughness to carry it through tough moments. This German side, more than ever, is revealing the ethnic diversity now ever-present in Europe's strongest economy.

Players to watch

1. Bastian Schweinsteiger. The 25-year-old is considered in the best form of his career. This past season he was one of the Bundesliga's highest rated midfielders, with more than 100 touches of the ball per game. Low has said Schweinsteiger will assume Ballack's role as the main influence in Germany's midifeld for this World Cup.

2. Thomas Muller.At 20, the Bayern Munich striker is all the rage. He has demoted Klose to the bench and put in a solid performance against a veteran backline in the Champions League final. He has scored 19 goals this season in all competitions, helping Bayern capture the league and Cup double in Germany.

3. Manuel Neuer.The goalkeeper from FC Schalke 04 is being tipped as the team's starting goalkeeper because of the recent shoulder injury to Bayer Leverkusen's Rene Adler. Neuer was a member of his country's under-21 side that triumphed at the 2009 European championships, and he started two of Germany's recent friendlies.

Who's hot

Mesut Ozil. Werder Bremen's 21-year-old midfield maestro is considered a rising star within the team and is expected to bring a creative dimension on the right wing for Germany.

Who's not

Kevin Kuranyi. The Schalke striker, with his 18 goals, was informed he would not be called into the team. Kuranyi, Brazilian born, stormed out of a stadium last fall during a qualifier against Russia after being left out of the lineup and has not been called back since.

Three key questions

1. How soon will Muller be inserted into the lineup? With the various injuries affecting the squad, will Low decide to use young Muller from the start in South Africa? If not, how long will it take before the 20-year-old is given the chance to show he is up to the task?

2. Will Germany's goalkeeping be its usual asset? Not long ago, Neuer was probably considered the third-choice keeper for his country's side. But following the recent injury to Rene Adler, and the death by suicide last November of Hannover keeper Robert Enke, Neuer is being counted on to fill a traditionally strong position for his national team.

3. With all the recent injuries, is Germany still a threat to claim a fourth World Cup title? It has been 20 years since the Germans won the World Cup. Hit by a rash of injuries that included its captain and star Ballack, along with Adler and Christian Traesch, the Germans would do well to match the team's performance in the past two World Cups (finalists in 2002 and semifinalists in 2006).

Projected lineup

G Manuel Neuer, Schalke (Germany)
D Per Mertesacker, Werder Bremen (Germany)
D Serdar Tasci, Stuttgart (Germany)
D Philipp Lahm, Bayern Munich (Germany)
D Jerome Boateng, Hamburg (Germany)
M Bastian Schweinsteiger, Bayern Munich (Germany)
M Lukas Podolski, Cologne (Germany)
M Mesut Ozil, Werder Bremen (Germany)
M Thomas Muller, Bayern Munich (Germany)
F Miroslav Klose, Bayern Munich (Germany)
F Mario Gomez, Bayern Munich (Germany)