Germany facing problems up front
The doubts over Joachim Löw's future as Germany coach have taken a back seat recently as questions abound over the fettle of the World Cup squad itself. The ankle damage sustained by Michael Ballack, which meant the captain had to drop out, has been well-documented. First-choice goalkeeper Rene Adler has been forced to do likewise, as has a possible Ballack replacement, Adler's Bayer Leverkusen teammate Simon Rolfes.
Still, the most concerning area is probably up front. The first-choice strikers look worryingly out-of-touch. Löw is a loyal man, and less likely to defer to the vagaries of current form than most, but the stats of Germany's top frontmen make uncomfortable reading. Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski scored a miserable five Bundesliga goals between them this season. Klose at least has the excuse of only having started 11 times, but Prince Poldi had just two goals in 27 games despite the move back to his beloved Köln that was supposed to revitalize him.
Mario Gomez is even more of a concern. The €30 million man's return of 10 goals in 21 games for Bayern Munich is no disaster, though it represents a significant drop-off from last term's 24. His scoring worries are more international-specific. He has scored five times for Germany in the past two years, but four of those were in one friendly against the United Arab Emirates last summer. Gomez has scored only two competitive goals in his entire Germany career, a double against San Marino in a Euro 2008 qualifier -- three years ago.
Little wonder Löw has been badgered (unsuccessfully) to recall Kevin Kuranyi, the scorer of a career-best 18 Bundesliga goals this season. Unfortunately for Kuranyi, the coach had already announced he would never pick him again, after he walked out at halftime during October 2008's friendly against Russia, upset at not being selected. Löw has decided that preserving the harmony of the group is more important than the in-form striker's prowess.
The good news for Germany is that you don't necessarily need a top striker for a crack at the World Cup. Look at the last two European sides to lift the trophy. France started the 1998 final with Stephane Guivarc'h, who subsequently slipped into obscurity. The team's tournament top scorer was a young Thierry Henry (then a wide player) with three. In the 2006 edition, Luca Toni led Italy's charts with a measly two scores. Whoever fills the Ballack-shaped hole -- perhaps Bastian Schweinsteiger -- could be the man to inspire Germany.
That said, there could still be a striking solution for Löw in the form of two relative novices. Stefan Kiessling has only four caps but has enjoyed a sterling campaign with Leverkusen, hitting 21 goals. Cacau, who only made his debut after receiving a German passport last year, was also in good form this season, notching 13 in 19 starts and hitting his first two for the national side in the recent win over Malta. The question is: Does Löw have the adventure to stray from his tried and tested favorites?