Germany World Cup Preview: Can Ballack Finally Win The Big One?

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Germany World Cup Preview: Can Ballack Finally Win The Big One?

The Germans have been a model of consistency in World Cup play, qualifying for every tournament since 1954 and advancing to at least the quarterfinals every time.  However, it has been two decades since they last hoisted the cup in 1990 and the drought has even the most crazed supporter’s patience wearing thin. 

Qualification was soft for these European soccer giants, the Germans breezed through their group without sustaining any losses, the only headaches came in the form of two draws against Finland and with home and away wins against a stout Russian side under their belt, all signs point to a bright outlook for the Germans in the 2010 Cup.

SCHEDULE:

Vs. Australia—June 15th

Vs. Serbia—June 18th

Vs. Ghana—June 23rd

 

At first glance, Group D may seem like a proverbial cakewalk for the Germans, however it is anything but.  The Socceroos qualified for their second straight World Cup seemingly without breaking a sweat, and their fixture with the Germans in Durban will provide a challenge for a German side that desperately needs to settle their nerves coming in. 

Five days later, Germany travels up the east coast of South Africa for their date with a Serbian side that surprisingly qualified first in a Group that sported the likes of France and Ireland.  Finally, the Germans end the group play stage in the capital city of Johannesburg, squaring off against the always potent Michael Essien and the Black Stars of Ghana. 

The Germans will be keen to take all three points from both Australia and Serbia, avoiding a pressure-cooker match against Ghana in the closing stages of group play.  Expect Germany to finish at the top of the Group D table, but a draw or upset loss in their first two games could spell danger for die Nationalmannschaft. 

KEY PLAYERS

For the Germans it is all about respecting the old guard in their captain Michael Ballack.  The crafty midfielder and unbridled leader of the national team has seen his fair share of success on the national stage, but losses in the 2002 World Cup finals and 2008 Euro Cup finals add weight to the ever-growing monkey on Ballack’s back.  At 33 years of age, the 2010 World Cup is likely Ballack’s last chance to bring home some hardware back to Germany.

On the defensive end, Phillip Lahm is the man for the German side.  One of the best attacking outside backs in the world, his prowess in the attacking third of the field will not be nearly as important as his role maintaining the shape and stability of Germany’s back line. 

The usual rock of a defense that has become synonymous with the German national team has become suspect heading into South Africa.  Only Lahm and Per Mertesacker remain from the 2006 Cup. 

Leading candidates to fill the void on the backline are Serdar Tasci, Jerome Boateng and Heiko Westermann, all of whom are young and very talented, but ultimately it is up to Lahm to keep all the fullbacks on the same page and preserve continuity.

It has been the most dreadful of scenarios between the pipes for Germany.  The tragic suicide of widely considered frontrunner Robert Enke shook the Bundesliga to its core.  His likely replacement was Rene Adler, a phenom from Leverkusen who performed well in qualifying despite being ripe at 25 years of age.  Much to the chagrin of the German team Adler has just withdrawn from South Africa to undergo surgery on a rib that he fractured during a Bundesliga match against VfB Stuttgart. 

Germany still has vets Tim Wiese of Werder Bremen and Manuel Neuer of Schalke 04 in line to guard the onion bag in the 2010 cup.  Yet the uncertainty about who will be keeping for the Germans is a deviation from relying on grizzled vets like Oliver Kahn and Jens Lehmann, as the Germans have in the past.

 

STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES

Germany’s strength lies in its midfield and attack.  Since taking the reins in 2006, manager Joachim Low has instilled a more aggressive offense and places great importance on one-touch football and quick breaks up the pitch. 

Ballack is a proven leader, he’ll be joined by Bayern’s Bastian Schweinsteiger, and Lazio’s Thomas “the hammer” Hitzlsperger, who has a left foot akin to a howitzer.  Taking over the fourth midfield spot will likely be one of Werder Bremen’s two 21 year old starlets, Mesut Ozil or Marko Marin, both are armed with supreme pace and technique that meshes well with Low’s preferred style of play.

Up front, Miroslav Klose always seems to kick it up a notch when the pressure is on, he has 10 World Cup goals to his name and has an outside shot of eclipsing Brazil’s Ronaldo for the all time record of 15.  His partner will likely be Lukas Podolski, who possesses a deadly left foot and unrivaled scoring ability, Podolski always seems to find the net, despite questions about how well he gels with his teammates.

Like a true soccer power, Germany’s only real weakness lies within itself.  Swirling controversy and bad blood has plagued the Germans throughout qualifying and Joachim Low will need to find a way to expel any bitter taste in his players’ mouths leading up to kick-off. 

Ballack publicly criticized Low for cutting usual defensive stalwart Torsten Frings from the squad.  The captain was also involved in an altercation which resulted in Podolski slapping Ballack in the face for reaming him out during a qualifier. 

Thickening the plot is Schalke forward Kevin Kuranyi, one of the Bundesliga’s leading scorers walked out on Low and the team 18 months ago because he was not being played enough.  Low is now under immense pressure to do a 180 on the situation and bring Kuranyi with the team to South Africa, especially because Low will switch to a more attacking-oriented 4-3-3 formation at times.   

 

IT WOULD BE A GREAT WORLD CUP IF...

The stage is set for a dream finish in South Africa for Germany.  The talent is there, the controversies leading up to the start of the tournament give the Germans a chance to strengthen their bonds despite adversity, and Robert Enke’s tragic passing will weigh heavily on the hearts of the German players.  Advancing to the finals and giving themselves the opportunity to walk away as winners would certainly make for a storybook ending.

IT WOULD BE A DISASTER IF...

Germany faces a dangerous group in the opening round and must avoid complacency.  Add that to the Kuranyi and Ballack-Podolski sagas and Germany is suspect for implosion.  The Germans will need to be on top form if they not only want to make the semis, but even advance out of their own group.

MY PREDICTION

The road to the semifinals is littered with landmines for Germany.  Expect them win their group and face the second place team out of Group C, which means either a pesky U.S. team…or England, who would most likely be furious for not beating the U.S. in group play.  Assuming Germany advances into the quarters, a matchup with Lionel Messi and the rest of Argentina is very probable.  Despite the rocky road, Germany’s track record is on their side, in the 2002 World Cup, 2006 World Cup and 2008 Euro Cup they finished second, third and second respectively.  Expect to see the Germans build on these results in South Africa and make a serious run at the title in the 2010 World Cup.     

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