Predicting the Germany Squad 40 Days from the 2014 World Cup

Clark Whitney@@Mr_BundesligaFeatured ColumnistMay 3, 2014

Predicting the Germany Squad 40 Days from the 2014 World Cup

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    Claudio Villa/Getty Images

    Just over a month remains before the 2014 World Cup begins in Brazil, and time is running out for Germany coach Joachim Low to choose his preliminary squad.

    The Bundestrainer has until May 13 to select his 30-man team, which will be cut to 23 before the tournament kicks off.

    Low has long approached his job as though it were a club position, maintaining relative consistency in his selection. But a blight of injuries this season will force him to make changes to the squad he took to Euro 2012, despite no active Germany international having retired in the meantime.

    Mario Gomez, Sami Khedira, Benedikt Howedes, Dennis Aogo, Sven Bender, Mesut Ozil and Marcel Schmelzer are just some of the many Germany internationals who have been injured as of late. Other burgeoning talents, meanwhile, have emerged as contenders for a spot in the team in Brazil next month.

    With 40 days remaining until the tournament kicks off and just 10 until Low names his preliminary squad, click Begin Slideshow for a preview of the Germany squad that may make it to Brazil.

Goalkeeper: Manuel Neuer

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    Claudio Villa/Getty Images

    Four years ago, Manuel Neuer became Germany's No. 1 through tragic circumstances. The death of Robert Enke and a rib injury to Rene Adler resulted in Neuer being promoted from third-choice to starting goalkeeper at the World Cup.

    Since 2010, Neuer's profile has grown from that of a budding talent to one of a world-class star. After a brilliant World Cup, he was heroic in Schalke's run to the Champions League semi-final in the spring of 2011. The following season, he moved to Bayern; since then, he's won a treble.

    At 28 years of age, Neuer is in his prime and remains the undisputed starting goalkeeper in Low's squad.

Goalkeeper: Roman Weidenfeller

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    Kirsty Wigglesworth

    The pecking order behind Manuel Neuer is one of the few areas of Low's team that has not been settled in recent years.

    Tim Wiese was an option but is no more given that he hasn't played a single match since January 2013. Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Ron-Robert Zieler have been used several times, neither convincing in the chances given.

    And although Rene Adler was recalled to Low's Germany team in the fall, his playing for a Hamburg side that has the league's worst defensive record inspires no confidence.

    The most likely backup for Neuer instead is Roman Weidenfeller, who at the ripe age of 33 earned his first cap in a friendly with England last November. The Dortmund vice-captain became the oldest-ever Germany goalkeeper to make his debut, but his inclusion has been well-earned during BVB's last two Champions League campaigns.

    Apart from Neuer, no other Germany goalkeeper has experience and form that can compare with that of Weidenfeller.

Goalkeeper: Marc-Andre Ter Stegen

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    Oliver Lang

    As previously mentioned, the reserve options for Low at goalkeeper are few. Fortunately for him, the third-choice goalkeeper is rarely called upon, meaning that his selection is unlikely to make a noticeable difference in Germany's campaign.

    Low at this point cannot call upon Wiese and would be foolish to select Adler considering Hamburg's woeful campaign.

    Of the new generation, with options like Ter Stegen, Zieler, Bernd Leno and Kevin Trapp, none has a huge amount of experience. But Ter Stegen has played for Germany before (if not very well), and one day will be a great goalkeeper.

    Barcelona have trusted him to succeed Victor Valdes, which should qualify Ter Stegen for a role as third choice.

Defender: Philipp Lahm

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    Matthias Schrader

    On merit of his being Germany's captain, Philipp Lahm is a lock for Low's 23-man squad. The 30-year-old has been in the form of his life since Euro 2012 and will look to make the very best of what could be the last major international tournament during his peak years.

    Lahm has had many near-misses in his career, his Germany having finished third in the 2006 and 2010 World Cups, runners-up at Euro 2008 and semi-finalists at Euro 2012.

    Now a real veteran, the 105-times-capped Germany international will look finally to surpass the final hurdle with his national team.

Defender: Kevin Grosskreutz

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    Matthias Schrader

    When Kevin Grosskreutz was first capped by Germany in 2010, he was used as a winger. The Dortmund man at the time was unable to convince Low to bring him to the World Cup and was cut from the Mannschaft's preliminary squad.

    Four years later, Grosskreutz has more favorable odds. Deputizing for Lukasz Piszczek while the Polish defender recovered from multiple surgeries, he has reinvented himself as a full-back who can play on either flank.

    The 25-year-old Grosskreutz's versatility and work rate alone are good reasons for Low to bring him to the World Cup. Adding in the fact that Dennis Aogo has spent the majority of the season recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament, there should be room for Grosskreutz to fit into Low's plans.

Defender: Jerome Boateng

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    Antonio Calanni

    Competition for a starting role in the center of the German defense will be heated, as Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels, Per Mertesacker and potentially more vie for two spots in Low's first XI.

    Each defender has at least one or two unique advantages, Boateng's being his athleticism and the fact that he has won the Champions League having had a magnificent final in May 2013. And he has regularly started for Low in each of the Mannschaft's last seven competitive and friendly fixtures.

    Whether or not he indeed starts, it's clear by now that Boateng is a key part of Low's team. At 25 years of age, he's entered his prime and will be a part of the Germany squad for years to come, including in Brazil.

Defender: Mats Hummels

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    Felice Calabro'

    Mats Hummels has had his ups and downs in the last two years, but as the World Cup approaches, the 25-year-old is reaching his best form.

    The Borussia Dortmund centre-back was widely regarded as Germany's best player at Euro 2012 before making a regrettable mistake in the semi-final with Italy and perhaps lacked some confidence last year.

    In recent months, however, Hummels has been the world-class star of yesteryear, his heroics restoring faith in a Dortmund defense that, in the fall, looked awfully susceptible.

    He will find it difficult to displace the now-trusted Boateng and the superlatively experienced Per Mertesacker, but his one advantage is not to be underestimated: Hummels has skills with the ball and in defense that no current German player can match.

Defender: Per Mertesacker

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    Matthias Schrader

    Per Mertesacker will likely be the second-most experienced defender in the Germany squad, behind Philipp Lahm. The 29-year-old is approaching a century of caps (he currently has 96) and has been an important part of the German team since 2004.

    This season has been occasionally difficult for Mertesacker at Arsenal; his club has struggled to contain counter-attacking teams and the Gunners have been hammered by many of England's best teams.

    His pace and inability to deal with counter-attacks will count as negatives. But his experience is a huge positive towards his aspirations to play at the World Cup. Either way, he's a certain inclusion in Low's squad to bring to Brazil.

Defender: Matthias Ginter

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    Matthias Schrader

    The fourth centre-back spot in Low's Germany team has in recent years been Benedikt Howedes, with Heiko Westermann as an alternative.

    But the latter plays for the worst defense in the Bundesliga and has had a very poor year, while the former has had his season blighted by injuries. Howedes has played just four Bundesliga games since early December and has missed the last seven domestic fixtures.

    Instead of Howedes, Matthias Ginter just might make the cut. At 20 years of age, the Freiburg man is still very young. But he will have played in the Bundesliga for two-and-a-half seasons before the World Cup begins, the current being his best yet.

    Ginter has the ability to play both in defense and in midfield; his versatility could be a useful asset in Low's reckoning. The Bundestrainer clearly rates Ginter very highly, having granted the player his first cap in a recent friendly with Chile.

Defender: Marcel Schmelzer

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    Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

    Ever since Joachim Low decided to use Philipp Lahm as a right-sided defender only, the position opposite him on the left flank has been a soft spot in the Germany lineup. The trainer has tried several options, but at this point it appears that Marcel Schmelzer is preferred.

    The 26-year-old has started regularly for Germany when fit and, as a Dortmund player, is the only healthy option available to Low who regularly plays at a top Champions League club.

    He's not a spectacular or especially skillful player but has experience, fighting spirit and cool nerves in big games. Although often injured this season, he nonetheless can expect to start in Brazil.

Defender: Marcell Jansen

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    Clive Rose/Getty Images

    Although Schmelzer is most likely to be first choice at the World Cup, his many muscular injuries this season have resulted in Marcel Jansen finding his way back into Low's favor. The Hamburg man has started four out of the last five competitive and friendly matches for Germany.

    Jansen was a starter for Germany in the early stages of Euro 2008 but until recently had fallen off the radar in the Mannschaft team. But with Dennis Aogo, the only experienced alternative, currently recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament, the alternatives are limited.

    Erik Durm has made a late appeal for a place in the German team and may well make the preliminary squad, but at the moment it is difficult seeing the youngster replacing the 45-times capped Jansen.

Midfielder: Bastian Schweinsteiger

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    Alex Livesey/Getty Images

    Bastian Schweinsteiger is Germany's vice-captain and is just as assured of a place in Low's team as Lahm.

    The 29-year-old has earned 101 caps over the last decade, his status in the Mannschaft squad almost beyond question.

    The rise of Ilkay Gundogan last spring, as well as concerns over Schweinsteiger's fitness, led to questions as to whether the Bayern man's time as a starter was nearing its end.

    However, Schweinsteiger's health has improved as of late, and he now is one of the few possible Germany midfielders who will (assuming he is not injured between now and June) have had a prolonged, injury-free run in the time leading up to the World Cup.

Midfielder: Sami Khedira

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    Felice Calabro'

    Sami Khedira's most recent match came while representing Germany, in a November friendly with Italy.

    The 27-year-old tore his anterior cruciate ligament in a challenge and only recently returned to training. He'll be fortunate if he plays again for Real Madrid this season.

    At the same time, Khedira has a very good chance of making Low's World Cup squad. He'll be short of match practice, of course, but will have been training on the ball for two full months before the tournament begins.

    Arguably Germany's best player at Euro 2012, Khedira is well regarded by Low. Assuming his rehabilitation continues according to schedule, he should make the final cut.

    Exactly how much of a role he'll play, though, is largely dependent on how he fares in the pre-tournament friendlies with Poland, Cameroon and Armenia.

Midfielder: Lars Bender

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    Kirsty Wigglesworth

    In all likelihood there will only be room in Low's squad for one Bender, and that one will probably be Lars.

    As well as Sven has played at times this season, his being injured in the latter stages of the campaign will be a big hindrance to his chances. He was already an outsider to an extent, with twin brother Lars having earned more than twice as many caps.

    Lars has had his share of injuries this year as well but is ending the season on a good run at Leverkusen, a minor calf strain in March being the only knock that has seen him miss any action as of late.

    The 24-year-old is a tireless runner, a hard tackler and generally is just the kind of defensive player a coach would want to keep opponents at bay.

Midfielder: Toni Kroos

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    Michael Probst

    Toni Kroos had a poor Euro 2012 and struggled to cope with his place on the bench. Since then, though, the player has matured. He's 24 now and a better and more complete player than two years ago.

    He also has come to accept that he will not always start at Bayern Munich.

    Now more refined and approaching his natural prime, Kroos is ready to take the World Cup by storm. He's been magnificent for Bayern in some of this season's most important games.

    And now he faces an enormous opportunity to make a huge breakthrough, to establish himself on the world stage and earn respect and a huge salary, be it at Bayern or with another interested party.

Midfielder: Thomas Muller

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    Antonio Calanni

    Germany rarely lose when Thomas Muller plays, or so the saying goes. The 24-year-old has been benched at times at both club and international level but seems always to have an answer for any criticism he takes.

    Despite not being a particularly flashy or superlatively skillful player, he has a winning mentality that has been proven again and again.

    Muller was the top scorer at the 2010 World Cup, one in which he found the net more times than any 20-year-old had since Pele. Exactly how he'll fit into Low's plans remains uncertain, but one thing is for sure: If played, he's sure to find a way to influence any big game in a very big way.

Midfielder: Mesut Ozil

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    Matthias Schrader

    Although he's come under heavy criticism in the British press this year, one ought not to expect Mesut Ozil to fall out of Low's favor any time soon.

    The 25-year-old has been the cornerstone of the Germany attack ever since 2009, the Bundestrainer having built his system around Ozil and brought quality out of the playmaker that has not been replicated by Jose Mourinho or Arsene Wenger.

    Ozil has spent a couple of spells sidelined with injuries this season, but he'll enter the World Cup in better physical shape than he had at Euro 2012.

    He'll have nearly a month to train with Germany prior to their first game, and the time sidelined with injuries will have at least given his body some time to recover.

    Ozil will be highly motivated entering the World Cup; he'll be keen to silence the critics. And there will be no better opportunity to do so than in a system built to his strengths.

Midfielder: Mario Gotze

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    Felice Calabro'

    When Mario Gotze was first capped for Germany in November 2010, he became the youngest Mannschaft player to make his debut since Uwe Seeler in 1954. At least according to the history books, the now-21-year-old is in quite extraordinary company.

    Low holds Gotze in very high regard, although the player has encountered some hurdles that have set him back somewhat in his development.

    He spent the spring prior to Euro 2012 injured and played a very muted role at that tournament, and this season has had some teething problems as he's tried to adjust to being just one star among an entire team of world-class players at Bayern Munich.

    With that having been said, Gotze is a proven big-game player, a fighter and one whose desire right now is at a peak. He has enormous class and will do everything in his power to earn a spot in Low's lineup. A spot on the bench is the worst he can do; as long as he's fit, he'll surely be in Low's squad.

Midfielder: Marco Reus

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    Sascha Schuermann

    As the World Cup approaches, one will be hard-pressed to name more than a couple of players whose form is even comparable to that of Marco Reus. The Dortmund man has scored or assisted 45 goals in 41 games for his club this season, including an incredible 15 in the last eight fixtures.

    Ever since the fall of 2012, Reus has been Low's first-choice starter on the left wing. His explosion of form, though, has coincided with him moving into a central role at BVB, the same position he occupied while at 'Gladbach.

    Exactly how Low will use Reus is uncertain, but what is certain is that, if fit, the 24-year-old will not only make Low's 23-man squad for the World Cup but will start for the Mannschaft.

Midfielder: Andre Schurrle

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    Antonio Calanni

    Last summer Andre Schurrle set himself up well to be a part of Low's plans at the World Cup. Following a good season at Leverkusen, the talented winger was signed by Chelsea in a €20 million deal.

    But then Jose Mourinho brought in Willian, and the Brazilian has been preferred over the German ever since. Schurrle now is a substitute at the Blues, having started just 14 Premier League games.

    Schurrle nonetheless should just about make Low's squad for the World Cup. He's a good fit in Low's system and has a favorable scoring record (11 goals in 31 caps), despite having rarely started for his national team.

    Schurrle netted a hat-trick for Germany in their final World Cup qualifier against Sweden, and his versatility in being able to play on either wing or even as a striker makes him a very useful asset to the German attack.

    Between Schurrle and the out-of-form Julian Draxler, who has yet to make much of an impression for Germany, the 23-year-old Chelea man should get the nod.

Midfielder: Lukas Podolski

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    Matthias Schrader

    Lukas Podolski's international future looked to be in serious doubt after Euro 2012. The winger struggled to make an impression at the tournament as budding talents such as Marco Reus, Mario Gotze, Andre Schurrle and more stood not far behind him as they continued to develop into stars.

    At present, though, it seems Podolski's situation may not be so dire after all. With many forwards injured or struggling for form, Low will find the Arsenal man's shooting power and finishing ability (at least with his left foot) useful to his plans.

    Podolski has 112 caps and 46 goals for Germany; he's experienced and at the very least should expect to earn considerable time off the bench as a substitute.

    He's found his form at Arsenal in the latter stages of the season and could yet find his way into Low's first XI.

Striker: Miroslav Klose

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    Kerstin Joensson

    Miroslav Klose may turn 36 just three days before the World Cup begins, but the veteran is certain to make Low's squad so long as he is fit.

    Low has a dearth of proven options available to play at striker. Mario Gomez has played just 928 minutes in all competitions for club and country this season and has been ruled out for the season.

    Stefan Kiessling, meanwhile, has a longstanding row with Low and told Bild (h/t ESPN) last year that he would never again play for Germany, at least not under the current Bundestrainer.

    Germany will likely play without a traditional centre-forward at the World Cup, calling upon Klose to come off the bench as an impact substitute when the time permits. The veteran no longer has the athleticism to play at top speed for 90 minutes throughout a month-long tournament, but 15-30 minutes per game should be feasible.

    Klose has always been a top performer for Germany in tournaments, so even in his advanced years he just might come through when he's needed most. And at the very least, his experience and leadership will be useful.

Striker: Pierre-Michel Lasogga

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    Frank Augstein

    The Mannschaft may be short of striking options ahead of the World Cup, but it would be a surprise if Low only called up Klose from Germany's pool of centre-forwards.

    He'll need a Plan B if his plan to use a free-flowing front four fails, and Klose's advanced years and injury-proneness suggests the need for another striker.

    Of the options available, Pierre-Michel Lasogga may be the most viable possibility. The 22-year-old is uncapped as of yet but was recently nominated to Low's team for the first time as Germany prepared to take on Chile in a friendly.

    The Hamburg man was forced to withdraw from the squad ahead of that match due to an injury, one of many he's had this season.

    Despite his many ailments, Lasogga has regularly performed for HSV when fit, his rate of a goal every 118 minutes ranking him among the most prolific players in the Bundesliga. And with Gomez injured, and Kiessling both injured and in a row with Low, the trainer may have to take a risk.

    Lasogga is very much likely to be called up to Low's preliminary squad. He'll have to prove himself in training, but if he remains fit and shows his abilities, he may well survive the final cut and be named in Low's 23-man selection.

The Near-Misses

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    Greg Fiume/Getty Images

    The tragedy of Germany having so many great players in their talent pool is that there will inevitably be international-class players omitted from Low's final squad.

    The Bundestrainer will call up 30 players initially and all will have a chance to prove themselves, but some will face a steep uphill climb if they are to survive the cut. This list was selected assuming there are no unfavored players who surprisingly dazzle Low before he makes his final selection.

    Hamburg duo Rene Adler and Heiko Westermann, as well as HSV's loanee Dennis Aogo, are unlikely to make the cut. HSV's defense is the worst in the Bundesliga, while Marcell Jansen may well make the cut in part due to Germany's scarcity of qualified left-backs.

    Aogo will make his return to training this month following cruciate ligament surgery, but Low will have already determined his left-backs.

    Like Aogo, teammate Benedikt Howedes has been struck by injuries; the latter has barely played since early December. There is an alternative in Matthias Ginter who, despite his young age, has a considerable two-and-a-half years' experience as a professional.

    Erik Durm is a final option for left-back, but the World Cup may come too soon for the 21-year-old. He was converted from forward only last summer and, despite some good recent performances, remains a risk.

    If Low wants a physical, fast and tireless Dortmund attacker-turned-defender, Grosskreutz is the more reliable bet on either flank.

    In midfield, Sven Bender is likely to miss out. He's been injured as of late and the fact that his twin brother, Lars, plays so similarly but with a bit more technical skill should see Sven miss out.

    Lars' club mate, Sidney Sam, also is a doubt, his form at Leverkusen having waned after a strong start to the season. Assuming the likes of Muller, Ozil, Gotze, Reus, Schurrle and Podolski are fit, they should keep Sam out of the squad. The same goes for Julian Draxler, who has had a season to forget.

    Germany's relative scarcity of top striker options is well known, but Low's squad may be especially thin this summer. Mario Gomez has hardly played this campaign due to a blight of injuries and won't play before season's end. A striker who thrives on rhythm, it's hard to see him making the squad.

    Max Kruse has a much better chance of making the squad, and right now it's a toss-up between the 'Gladbach man and Lasogga.