Low and Germany Face Tough Challenges in Lead-Up to the World Cup

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Low and Germany Face Tough Challenges in Lead-Up to the World Cup
Michael Sohn/Associated Press

The German national team will begin its training camp this Wednesday in the southern town of Passeiertal in Austria.

They will stay there for eleven days until their friendly against Cameroon and Armenia in the first week of June before they board the plane to Brazil on June 7th. 

Although Germany are blessed with a huge talent pool, coach Joachim Low is not without his share of challenges and obstacles in preparation for Brazil, and the next three weeks could prove decisive in Germany's eventual showing in the World Cup.

Several of Germany's hopefuls for Brazil will come to camp either injured or out of form, and Low has very little time to help his players recover and find the right balance to succeed in Brazil.

Low will work with the 27-player roster that he will have to cut down to 23 by June 2nd. He will have to decide whether to potentially risk filling one of those spots with half-fit players like Sami Khedira and Miroslav Klose, or give more inexperienced players the opportunity.

The decisions Low makes in this training camp will not only affect Germany's performances, but also his own future as national team coach. Although he extended until 2016, a poor performance will likely mean the end of his tenure.

Kerstin Joensson/Associated Press

In 2010, Low was faced with a similar situation. Team captain Michael Ballack picked up an injury close to the tournament and was replaced by the inexperienced Khedira. The decision ultimately paid off and Germany went on to have an impressive tournament.

Four years before that, Low and then-coach Jurgen Klinsmann gradually integrated a new generation of players into the team before the tournament in their own home country. The changes paid off then too, and the team took a giant step forward after a grim period.

This time, however, Germany face a different set of challenges, perhaps their biggest since 2002. The pool of players Low can pick from is bigger than ever before. Young and talented players are produced at an incredible rate by just about every Bundesliga club.

However, therein lies the problem. Young players are integrated faster than they can adequately develop within the team. The size of the squad also results in a lot of rotation and turnover. 

Now, having options is never a bad thing, particularly with the nature of the international calendar, club duties and unpredictable injuries. This year in particular, Germany have experienced an unusually high rate of injuries to their players.

Ilkay Gundogan and Sven Bender were already ruled out weeks ago while Miroslav Klose, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedira—all starters four years ago in South Africa—have struggled with fitness this season. 

Low is in a race to get key players fit in time all the while preparing other options in the event that they fail to regain full fitness.

Borussia Monchengladbach's Christoph Kramer was called into the squad as a backup for Schweinsteiger, and Kevin Volland was called up as a potential forward replacement and supplement to Klose

It is very likely that the players' situations won't be fully known until very close to the tournament, so Low and his staff have to be prepared ahead of time and avoid having to take half-fit players to Brazil.

Despite having players with previous tournament experience like Philipp Lahm, Manuel Neuer, Per Mertesacker Klose, Schweinsteiger on the roster, this is still a relatively young and untested side.

Thirteen of the 27 players on the provisional rosters have less than 20 caps, and only 11 have played at the World Cup before.

Low had to use the youngest squad in national team history in their friendly against Poland last week, a team whose average age was 21.4. This was without the availability of the Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund contingent, but it shows just how young the pool is Low has to choose from.

The narrative in 2010 was very much that of an inexperienced young side, a national team in transition if you will, that went into the tournament without any real expectations but were building a foundation for the future.

Four years later, expectations are entirely different. After a disappointing performance at the European Championship in Poland and Ukraine, the German public expect Germany to have a better showing.

Anything less than reaching the final could be interpreted as another failure, a failure with what many consider the best generation of players since the 1970s. 

Matthias Schrader/Associated Press

Low also has to decide which path the team will take tactically. Will he continue with the tried and tested 4-2-3-1 or deviate and change things up?

Pep Guardiola's transformation of Lahm from fullback to holding midfielder had Low thinking, and he used him there in friendlies against Chile and Italy. Doing that in Brazil means a potential departure from the double-pivot that the team has been using for six years.

Furthermore, Low has also experimented without a traditional striker. With Klose's loss of pace and fitness worries, Low may be forced to look to one of his attacking midfielders to play up top. 

Any one tactical decision will also inevitably impact the rest of the formation, meaning any adjustments will have to be trained and polished in the three weeks before the tournament. 

Simply put, a lot is on the line for Germany this summer, and it all begins in a small town in the south of Austria.

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