What Are Germany's Biggest Strengths and Weaknesses Ahead of the World Cup?

Cristian NyariContributor IJune 4, 2014

Coach of the German national soccer team Joachim Loew stands next to pictures of players Philipp Lahm, left, and Miroslav Klose after a press conference where he presented his preliminary team for the upcoming World Cup in Brazil in Frankfurt, Germany, Thursday, May 8, 2014. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)
Michael Probst/Associated Press

Germany will no doubt travel to Brazil this summer as one of the big favorites to win the competition. It has won the FIFA World Cup three times and made the semifinals a record 12 times. 

Die Mannschaft are facing their longest spell without a World Cup trophy, however, and it has been almost 20 years since they last won an international competition. Suffice it to say, the expectations are high and the margin of slipping up quite low.

Although coach Joachim Low's contract was renewed past the World Cup, he will very much be judged on the team's showing in Brazil. This time even reaching the semifinals again might not be enough. 

That's not to say that Germany can't win it, of course. On paper it has one of the most talented squads heading into Brazil. The inexperienced team from South Africa has matured a lot over the last four years, and some key players are at the peak of their careers.

When Germany is on form, there are few sides in the world that can keep up. That said, there are also a lot of questions about this squad's consistency and whether Low has truly been able to reach the potential of what some deem a golden generation.

If Germany is to be successful in Brazil, it needs to exercise its strengths throughout the competition and quickly find ways to patch up some of its discrepancies.

Let's start with Germany's obvious strengths: squad depth and attacking talent. Few international sides can boast the quality in depth that Germany possesses. 

Ilkay Gundogan, Mario Gomez, Kevin Volland, Max Kruse, the Bender brothers and several others all missed out, yet Low was still able to call on an extremely talented and young squad. 

Despite the experience of veterans such as Miroslav Klose, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Philipp Lahm, the average age of the squad is still 24.6. Germany can still be that young, dynamic, unpredictable team that took the tournament by storm four years ago.

Three of many of Germany's attackers who can fill in for Klose.
Three of many of Germany's attackers who can fill in for Klose.Frank Augstein/Associated Press/Associated Press

And never before has Germany's depth been tested as much as it has leading up to Brazil. Low has faced arguably the team's biggest injury crisis since the European Championships in 1996. 

Five of Low's six central midfield options have either missed out on Brazil altogether or are still fighting to recover in time. Meanwhile, Low was able to call on the likes of Christoph Kramer and Matthias Ginter, who can fill in and had fantastic individual seasons.

The combination of Low's ability to adjust and the multitude of options is really unprecedented in recent German football history. Knowing that he has equally talented players waiting in case of injury will help his team in Brazil and even more in the long term.

Nowhere is that depth more impressive than in the attack. Low controversially selected just one striker for Brazil in Klose, a significant departure from the past. But it's because he has at least six players who have played or can play up top.

Mario Goetze, Thomas Mueller, Andre Schurrle, Marco Reus, Lukas Podolski and even Mesut Ozil have slotted in or can slot in up top. Low has successfully alternated between these players to keep Germany firing on all cylinders, even without more traditional forwards such as Klose and Gomez.

Indeed, Germany went undefeated in World Cup qualifying and scored more goals than any other side in Europe. Twenty-four of those 36 goals in qualifying were scored by those six players, and they will again play a big part in Brazil.

Germany fans can also take comfort in the fact that this is a more well-rounded team.

Apart perhaps from the aging Klose, there is not a single player on the Germany squad who has not gotten better or improved either since his last major international tournament or in his personal career.

For all the positives and potential, there are some worries about this side, most prominently the defense but also the team's tactical evolution.

The defense, more than anything, has been Germany's most prominent trouble area. In the 48 games since the 2010 World Cup, Germany has conceded 54 goals and kept just 17 clean sheets, most against expected opposition.

Low still has not decided on a set back four.
Low still has not decided on a set back four.Michael Probst/Associated Press

In 2010 defensive frailties were an acceptable consequence of a young, inexperienced squad devoting much of its energy to attacking. The perceived lack of real progress in that department since is a big part of the skepticism of some Germany supporters.

One other aspect of Germany's troubling defense is the absence of a devoted and consistent back four. Low has alternated between four or five center backs and used at least six players in the full-back positions, and that has resulted in Germany often leaking unnecessary goals. 

With Germany's opener against Portugal less than two weeks away, there is still no clear answer as to who will start at the back. 

Two of Per Mertesacker, Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng will start, but Low has not shown any signs of having made a clear decision. 

That uncertainty is similar at right back, where Low can keep captain Philipp Lahm or use Kevin Grosskreutz, Benedikt Howedes or Boateng, none of whom is a natural full-back.

Out left Low will most likely rely on the inexperienced Erik Durm, who just completed his first professional season and has just one cap to his name.

Finally, there is the direction in which Germany is going tactically. Since South Africa, Low has favored a more possession-based approach. The integration and availability of players such as Toni Kroos and Ilkay Gundogan have made it a natural progression compared to the quick direct counterattacking style four years ago.

However, there is still the sense that Germany is not a finished product tactically. Low experimented with different formations over the years, including a strikerless formation that has not been fully realized just yet. 

If Germany had another six months to prepare and experiment, the trophy in Brazil would be a much more realistic proposition. As it stands, the team's shortcomings could be a real setback in its quest for its fourth trophy.

Then again, Germany has a history of overcoming obstacles at major tournaments.