Welcome to the latest of our World Cup tactics boards, as we analyse in turn each of the 32 nations heading to Brazil for the 2014 finals.
This time we're taking a look at Germany, led by long-term head coach Joachim Low, on the day that they name their provisional squad for the tournament.
Here's the squad. (+Matthias Ginter) Who do you think will be the 7 players cut for the final squad? pic.twitter.com/kANEUKmzRa— TNC Bundesliga (@TNC_Bundesliga) May 8, 2014
Always one of the favourites heading into any major tournament, this is the 15th consecutive World Cup that Germany have qualified for (including as West Germany), while they have reached at least the semi-finals in six of the last eight.
Germany racked up nine victories and a single crazy draw in their qualification stage, topping Group C with 28 points—eight clear of their nearest challengers. Top spot in the group gave them an automatic passage to the finals in Brazil.
Low's side had the easiest possible start to qualifying—a home tie against one of the poorest sides in the continent, Faroe Islands. A 3-0 win was hardly overwhelming, but it got the job done and started Germany on their way.
They followed that up with a tough 2-1 away win against Austria—a Mesut Ozil penalty won the game—before Republic of Ireland were simply swatted aside 6-1 in Dublin, with Marco Reus and Toni Kroos grabbing a brace each.
What followed after was perhaps the match of the UEFA zone qualifying phase, as Germany roared into a 4-0 lead over Sweden, the side challenging Germany hardest for top spot. Miroslav Klose (twice), Per Mertesacker and Ozil had all found the net before the hour mark, putting Germany well clear. With less than half an hour remaining, however, Sweden began a remarkable comeback, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic kicking off a four-goal spree which ended with a 93rd-minute equaliser, and a 4-4 draw.
Back-to-back wins over Kazakhstan, 3-0 away and 4-1 at home, got things back to normal and when Austria were defeated 3-0 as well, the group was as good as won.
The trip to Faroe Islands and home game against Republic of Ireland both resulted in 3-0 wins, before the last matchday saw another goal fest against Sweden, which Germany ended up winning 5-3 after going 2-0 down initially.
Friendly matches over the past few months have seen an experimental squad beat England 1-0 days after the full team drew 1-1 with Italy, while a March friendly against Chile also finished 1-0 in Germany's favour.
They play Poland before the final squad of 23 is named, with Cameroon and Armenia providing further tests before the World Cup begins.
Formation and Style
A consistent and long-term commitment to playing adventurous, fluid football with great technique and creativity in the final third has been key to Germany's progress and relative success on the international stage, both during Low's tenure and with Jurgen Klinsmann before him.
That adventurism does not come at the expense of defensive solidity and organisation, though, with the entire squad expected to contribute to working back into position off the ball and denying the opposition room or time to play through.
Low plays a 4-2-3-1 formation, with plenty of movement and—thanks to the players available to him—interchanging of positions in attack.
A double-pivot of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira offers immense physicality as well as tactical and technical brilliance—though they are banking somewhat on the fitness of the latter, who has missed much of this term with a long injury absence. Toni Kroos provides a top-class alternative in the centre, with more intent to attack and unlock defences.
Both full-backs are encouraged to get forward with support play and controlled build-up, while the wider attacking midfielders have great movement and the ability to score goals, regardless of who starts.
The one question mark, given the named squad, may be over who plays as the starting striker; with Mario Gomez not fit, Kevin Volland uncapped and Klose not likely to play 90 minutes regularly, Mario Gotze seems likely to be the starting attacker, bringing even more interchanging and movement to the front four than would normally occur.
Projected Starting Lineup (4-2-3-1): Manuel Neuer; Philipp Lahm, Per Mertesacker, Jerome Boateng, Marcel Schmelzer; Bastian Schweinsteiger, Toni Kroos; Thomas Muller, Mesut Ozil, Marco Reus; Mario Gotze.
Reasons for Hope
An astonishing World Cup record, the expectation of the nation and the great quality their squad possesses are all key indicators of Germany doing well once more.
They have named a squad packed with winners and players used to challenging for major trophies—14 members of the squad play for the four sides who will have contested the last two Champions League finals—and in Low they have an established coach, used to working with those players over the long haul, who knows all their strengths and weaknesses, both tactically and mentally.
Germany are placed in Group G, along with Portugal, Ghana and USA.
While not an easy group, they should be confident they have more than enough to take two victories at least, and probably go unbeaten overall.
Germany also have a great mix of youth and experience: It remains to be seen who goes in the final squad, but nine players are aged 23 or under, and five are within touching distance of, or are already beyond, a century of caps.
Reasons for Concern
Germany don't have too many causes to worry, other than when they come up against the very top sides such as Spain, Argentina or Brazil.
Holger Badstuber and Mario Gomez would likely have been in the squad and both would have had a chance of being in the starting XI, but neither will feature after a season on the sidelines.
The assumption must be that a number of uncapped players—Shkodran Mustafi, Erik Durm, Andre Hahn and so on—will be cut from the eventual 23 which travels to Brazil, leaving not too many completely "unknown" stars in the squad—though it's unthinkable that the likes of Portugal might not know about Max Meyer coming off the bench in any case.
Aside from that, the only potential concern is that Manuel Neuer's understudies are entirely inexperienced at international level. Roman Weidenfeller has one cap, Ron-Robert Zieler has two.
Should Neuer sustain an injury or suspension, Germany will be hoping that the confidence and ability of those two from their domestic form is not usurped by their nerves on the big stage.
Conclusions and Prediction
Germany are one of the favourites, and that's for a good reason: They have a great squad, lots of attacking players to choose from and in Klose they have a man looking for two goals to become the all-time record scorer at World Cup finals, a good incentive for him to perform when on the pitch.
As long as they don't shock everybody by starting slowly and failing to make the knockouts, they have a very real chance of going far in this tournament.
Prediction: Top their group and run to the semi-finals to face Brazil. Could go either way...but another third place for Germany.