Having secured qualification for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, Germany can now experiment and simulate tough tournament fixtures in upcoming friendly matches, the first of which will be against Italy in Milan.
Although they were held to a draw by Sweden a year ago, Joachim Loew's side won all but one of their qualifying fixtures in Group C and comfortably secured top spot ahead of the Swedes, Austria, Republic of Ireland, Kazakhstan and the Faroe Islands.
Germany will now take on perennial bogey team Italy, to whom they lost 2-1 in the Euro 2012 semifinals. The Azzurri were Group B winners ahead of Denmark and went undefeated with six wins in 10 qualifying matches.
Loew will have to be careful when picking a formula to face Italy; the last time the two teams met, he deviated from his usual 4-2-3-1 formation by using a 4-3-3, and Germany were eliminated from Euro 2012. He will have to experiment to some degree, though, with the DFB currently dealing with a blight of injuries. Without further ado, here's Loew's likeliest selection to take on Italy.
Goalkeeper: Manuel Neuer
Roman Weidenfeller has waited until the age of 33 to earn his first call to the German national team, but the veteran will not start against Italy. Goalkeeping coach Andreas Koepke confirmed in a Tuesday press conference (h/t Goal.com): "Against Italy, Manuel Neuer will play."
Right-Back: Philipp Lahm
Captain Philipp Lahm is always a key figure for Germany in a test match like Friday's, and especially with deputy Bastian Schweinsteiger sidelined, the 30-year-old's experience will be valued. Loew wants to simulate a big World Cup match on Friday; Lahm of course will be his first choice.
Center-Back: Jerome Boateng
Since winning the treble with Bayern, Jerome Boateng's stock has risen considerably in Loew's eyes. The 25-year-old played the full 90 minutes in Germany's last five World Cup qualifiers, having apparently displaced Mats Hummels from the first XI. Consistency is key for defenses, and Loew confirmed in Wednesday's press conference that Boateng will start alongside Mats Hummels in defense on Friday.
Center-Back: Mats Hummels
Loew confirmed in Wednesday's press conference that Per Mertesacker is still ill with the flu and will miss the Italy match. The Arsenal man's loss looks set to be Mats Hummels' gain, as the 24-year-old looks to find his way back into Loew's favor. Germany are currently rather short of center-backs, and Hummels is certainly ahead of Benedikt Hoewedes in the pecking order.
Left-Back: Marcel Schmelzer
No new left-back talent has emerged in Germany this season, so Marcel Schmelzer remains Loew's first choice as the full-back opposite Philipp Lahm. The Dortmund man isn't in the best of form right now, but neither is his only competitor, Dennis Aogo. Schmelzer has more experience at the highest club level, and his Champions League performance last season makes him the man to beat.
Defensive Midfielder: Sami Khedira
Although he has come under fire at Real Madrid, Sami Khedira's international future is in no immediate danger, and Loew confirmed on Wednesday that the 26-year-old will start. Injuries to Lars Bender and Ilkay Gundogan have limited his competition in the national team, and given his heroics at Euro 2012, it will take exceptional circumstances to displace the ex-Stuttgart man from Loew's lineup.
Defensive Midfielder: Toni Kroos
With Schweinsteiger and Ilkay Gundogan both sidelined with injuries, Loew will turn to Toni Kroos to do the majority of distribution in deep areas of the midfield. Although Kroos plays in a more advanced role at Bayern, he has regularly deputized for the oft-injured Schweinsteiger and will, as Loew explained in Wednesday's press conference, start.
Right Wing: Thomas Mueller
Thomas Mueller's reputation as a big-game performer makes him hard to bench in any situation, and with several of the DFB's attacking players nursing injuries, the Bayern man should be a shoo-in to start. Although he's played as a striker at club level on occasion this season and Germany are short of strikers right now, the 24-year-old is unlikely to feature at the tip of attack, given that Loew preferred even Mesut Ozil to play in that role against Ireland last month.
Central Playmaker: Mesut Ozil
Like Mertesacker, Mesut Ozil fell ill early this week. But Loew revealed on Wednesday that the playmaker is on the mend and had flown to Italy to join the German team. And the trainer said he's "assuming that [Ozil] will be at full strength in final training" on Thursday. Assuming the trainer is correct, the Arsenal man and cornerstone of the DFB attack is sure to start.
Left Wing: Marco Reus
An ankle injury kept Marco Reus out of Germany's last two World Cup qualifiers, but the 24-year-old remains a lock for a starting role on the left flank. The winger was his country's second-highest scorer behind Ozil during qualifiers, with five strikes to his name. Especially considering his brilliant start to the 2013-14 season at Dortmund, he's sure to start.
Striker: Mario Goetze
With Miroslav Klose and Mario Gomez both injured, Loew explained on Wednesday that his only two candidates to start in the striker position are Max Kruse and Mario Goetze. The trainer said he hadn't made a choice at the time, but given that Goetze has long been a favorite of Loew's and scored and assisted within 21 minutes of his introduction as a substitute in his most recent international match, the Bayern attacker should have a slight edge over the in-form Gladbach forward.
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