Predicting Germany's 2018 World Cup Squad

Clark Whitney@@Mr_BundesligaFeatured ColumnistJuly 15, 2014

Predicting Germany's 2018 World Cup Squad

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    Matthias Schrader/Associated Press

    The 2014 World Cup has come to a close and finally, after 24 years, Germany are world champions. Joachim Low's eight-year tenure as the Mannschaft's head coach has finally come to fruition, and now the question has to be asked: Is this Germany team on the cusp of a period of international dominance like that of Spain from 2008 until recently?

    The squad Low brought to the World Cup was not exactly the youngest, and he relied upon a 36-year-old Miroslav Klose to start as striker for much of the tournament. The tournament's all-time leading scorer won't be part of Low's squad in four years, and he may not be the only player from the 2014 squad to be dropped between now and then, as room is made for Germany's rising talents to make their way to international stardom.

    The 2018 World Cup may be four years away, but Low's team was not built in a day; it was carefully selected over the span of many years. Click "Begin Slideshow" for a position-by-position prediction of the 23-man roster the Nationalmannschaft may bring to Russia in 2018.

Manuel Neuer (Goalkeeper)

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    Martin Meissner/Associated Press

    There are several instances in Manuel Neuer's career in which he won the favor of the masses as the world's best goalkeeper. At the 2014 World Cup, the shot-stopper reached a new level of regard when legendary Argentina coach Cesar Luis Menotti told ZDF (h/t T-Online) he regards Neuer as the best goalkeeper not only in the present, but in the history of world football.

    Neuer is currently 28 years of age and in his prime. He is athletically at his peak and has built confidence and exceptional judgment over the years; at this point it is safe to say his nerves are ice-cold and he has experience abound.

    In 2018, Neuer will be 32 years of age. This is the average age when neuromuscular velocity begins to decrease. He may have lost a bit of pace and some of his quick reflexes before the start of the 2018 World Cup. But if he has, that likely will be very little. And he'll also have four years' more experience. With all things considered, he will still be in (if towards the end of) his prime.

Marc-Andre Ter Stegen (Goalkeeper)

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    Manu Fernandez/Associated Press

    Neuer's backup at the 2014 World Cup was Roman Weidenfeller, who certainly deserved his place in the squad. But by the time of the 2018 World Cup, he'll be nearly 38 years of age. Even if he still is playing at the time, it's unlikely that the Dortmund man will be in the German squad.

    Marc-Andre ter Stegen, on the other hand, has a great chance of making the team. He's played for Germany before and rather poorly. However, Barcelona have put their faith in the young, former Borussia Monchengladbach goalkeeper, who in his early years has progressed even faster than Neuer.

    The current No. 1 made his international debut at the age of 23 and left Schalke for Bayern Munich at 25. Ter Stegen was first capped for Germany perhaps too young, at the age of 20, and two years later is joining a top European team.

    Ter Stegen has everything to prove at Barca, but he's been given a huge stage upon which to show his quality. Any starting goalkeeper at a club like Barcelona should, and in all likelihood will, make any 23-man World Cup squad; if Ter Stegen is successful, he'll certainly be picked.

Bernd Leno (Goalkeeper)

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    Frank Augstein/Associated Press

    Bernd Leno's career has in many ways mirrored that of Ter Stegen until this point—the two having been born a month apart and both having risen to prominence in the 2011-12 season.

    Ter Stegen had a bit of a head start in the spring of 2011, and that perhaps explains his having been capped for the senior national team and having always been a more coveted transfer target. But in fairness, there is not a tremendous gap in quality between the two 22-year-olds.

    Leno is now at Leverkusen, a smaller club than Barcelona but one that has provided, and foreseeably will continue to provide, a good platform for an aspiring player like Leno. The ex-Stuttgart man plays regularly in the Champions League and has been heroic for B04; in fact, he was ranked by Kicker as the Bundesliga's top goalkeeper in 2011-12 and in 2012-13.

    With Weidenfeller aging, Rene Adler playing for a Hamburg team in shambles and Ron-Robert Zieler playing for a Hannover side with little hopes of playing Champions League football, the most likely third goalkeeper in the German squad in 2018 is Leno.

Philipp Lahm (Right Back)

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    Martin Rose/Getty Images

    Philipp Lahm was the third-oldest player in Germany's 2014 World Cup squad, but, even still, he should make the 2018 squad. The versatile full-back-turned-midfielder has played brilliantly throughout his international career and, although he will turn 35 just four months after the tournament's end, may well remain the Nationalmannschaft's best full-back.

    As Germany captain since 2010, Lahm has proven his leadership qualities again and again, his efforts culminating in Germany winning the World Cup. Even if he is no longer fit to play every minute or has lost the sharpness to be relied upon as a starter, Lahm's influence as a motivator and a calming presence in the dressing room will justify his inclusion.

    Germany at the moment have few prospects in either full-back position. For the time being it looks as though the Nationalmannschaft will once again turn to Lahm in 2018 to lead the way towards glory.

Jerome Boateng (Center Back/Right Back)

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    Matthias Schrader/Associated Press

    Jerome Boateng didn't get all the plaudits that Hummels received throughout the World Cup, but the Bayern man played well consistently throughout the tournament and was downright heroic in the final.

    First a right back, then used centrally, Boateng's ability to adapt made him a huge asset to the German team. And he looks set to remain a key player for years to come.

    Once somewhat of an accident waiting to happen, Boateng has matured into a reliable defender. Again and again he has proved himself as a big-game performer for both Bayern and Germany, his timing and tackling is oft-immaculate and his athleticism is a unique asset among some rather slow defenders.

    Part of a golden generation of 1988-born center-backs, Boateng (along with Mats Hummels and Benedikt Hoewedes) is still short of celebrating his 26th birthday. He'll be nearing 30 at the time of the next World Cup and should therefore be still in his prime. Another clear and easy choice for selection in 2018.

Mats Hummels (Center Back)

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    Matthias Schrader/Associated Press

    Mats Hummels was the only nominee for the Golden Ball award at the 2014 World Cup whose primary position throughout the tournament was in defense. The 25-year-old was outstanding when he played, despite being hampered by illness and a persistent knee injury that affected his acceleration in the final.

    Hummels was rock-solid in defense and even took a leading role in the German attack, heading in two goals during the tournament. His goal against France may have made the difference between the Nationalmannschaft advancing and being eliminated.

    By the start of the next World Cup, Hummels will be six months short of his 30th birthday: Still in his prime and supremely experienced. Like Neuer, he's not only likely to make the squad, but to start so long as he's fit.

Benedikt Hoewedes (Center Back/Right Back—Left Back)

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    Frank Augstein/Associated Press

    Perhaps a surprise inclusion in Low's 2014 squad considering the injuries he sustained during the club season prior, Benedikt Hoewedes' performance justified the trainer's faith in him throughout the tournament. The Schalke captain took some time getting used to his unfamiliar left back position, but proved himself a useful player and a true leader. Accordingly, he didn't miss a single minute of the tournament.

    Looking forward, Hoewedes is likely to retain his spot in the German squad, if not the first team. He has too much competition at center back and the emergence of a fit, functional, natural full-back could see him displaced from the starting lineup.

    Characters like Hoewedes' are nonetheless valuable to any squad. His versatility, confidence and willingness to play anywhere make him a player who will in all likelihood retain a spot in the roster for the long-term. Russia 2018 will probably be his last World Cup, but at the age of 30, he won't be too old to make a good impression if called upon.

Matthias Ginter (Center Back/Central Midfielder)

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    Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

    Matthias Ginter didn't play for a single minute at the 2014 World Cup, but is well on his way to being a long-term international star of the German team. At 20, he was the youngest player in Low's squad; he made his debut cap a year younger than Boateng, almost a year and a half younger than Hummels, and three years younger than Hoewedes.

    Even in his young age, Ginter is one of the Bundesliga's best center backs. And his versatility, which has let him play in the center of defensive, midfield and forward positions, make him an especially valuable asset in a tournament team.

    The next step in Ginter's career is a critical one. He'll need to leave Freiburg to become the superstar he has the potential to be. But he'll need to be careful in finding a place where he can play regularly. Four years is a long time and between now and then he should become a better, more mature, self-assured player.

Erik Durm (Left Back)

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    Matthias Schrader/Associated Press

    Germany traveled to the 2014 World Cup without a natural left back. Marcel Schmelzer and Dennis Aogo were unfit, while Marcell Jansen narrowly avoided relegation as part of a dismal Hamburg back four.

    Benedikt Hoewedes stepped in to fill the void, but the right-footed Schalke center back offered little going forward. Schmelzer and Aogo never have offered a huge amount of confidence, so if Germany can develop a proper left back in the next four years, he likely will start at the 2018 World Cup.

    Erik Durm is certainly an option to fill the void. Although a striker and winger in his youth, he was converted to a defensive role as emergency cover for Schmelzer last season. Durm had his highs and lows, but his only real deficiency at this point is one that can be overcome—an occasional lack of positional awareness. Otherwise, he may be the best athlete in the Dortmund team and has great ball skills with both feet.

    The inclusion of Durm in Low's World Cup squad perhaps was a surprise in 2014, but in four years, the player may be a mainstay of the team. Still 22 and new to a defensive role, he has plenty of room for development.

Bastian Schweinsteiger (Central Midfielder)

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    Martin Meissner/Associated Press

    Bastian Schweinsteiger has in recent years been plagued by injuries, particularly a nasty ailment to his ankle. But he showed at the 2014 World Cup, especially in the final, just how much of a fighter he is.

    After entering the tournament unfit to play in the opener, the once immature winger ended the final with battered ankles, blood on his face, fatigue from running a match-high 15,339 meters and, of course, an irrepressible smile.

    The final showed just how important Schweinsteiger is to the German team. With 108 caps, he is one of the most experienced players in the history of the Nationalmannschaft. And critically, he—a nearly-man for almost his entire career—finally figured out how to play his very best in a major international final.

    Schweinsteiger is a perfect example of how there can be no substitute for experience in a major international final. If he stays fit, he may be closing in on Lothar Matthaus' record of 150 caps by the time of the next World Cup. And although nearing his 34th birthday, he should have something to offer at least from the bench and during training.

Sami Khedira (Central Midfielder)

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    Fabrizio Bensch/Associated Press

    Sami Khedira's 2014 World Cup ended on a tragic note, but one that underlined how necessary it is that he be nominated to the Nationalmannschaft in 2018. A calf injury kept the Real Madrid man out of Sunday's final and Germany struggled in his absence.

    A model professional whose attitude and work ethic are contagious, Khedira is just the type of player any coach would like to have in his squad. And on the pitch, his athleticism, quick passing and overall intelligence make him a huge asset.

    Khedira played heroically just weeks after returning to action following a debilitating knee injury. He'll be the wrong side of 30 in 2018, but 31 should not be too old for a player of his dedication to make his impression felt. Khedira still has another World Cup left in him, which is good news for Germany.

Toni Kroos (Central Midfielder)

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    Toni Kroos had a great 2014 World Cup, playing every minute of every game for Germany. Two years after being a sulking bench-warmer at Euro 2012, he seems to have come into his own as a top footballer in the eyes of the masses.

    A central midfielder with outstanding short- and long-ranged passing ability, a brilliant aptitude in shooting from distance and sublime set-piece delivery, Kroos is the very definition of the modern central midfielder. And he still has much to show the football world.

    Kroos is also one of the youngest players who appeared at the World Cup in 2014 and will be in the midst of his best years as a footballer in four years' time: In 2018 he'll be 28 years of age.

Ilkay Gundogan (Central Midfielder)

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    Frank Augstein/Associated Press

    Ilkay Gundogan's career thus far has been a rollercoaster. The 23-year-old looked promising in his youth but didn't make a big step in his career at Nurnberg. Then at Dortmund, he was transformed from a No. 10 to a holding midfielder and within 18 months became recognized as one of the world's finest players in his position. He has, however, not played football since last August due to a back injury.

    Gundogan finally had surgery last month and is set to return to action this fall. His injury is a major setback, but the midfielder proved his quality before and can be confident that he has the makings of a champion. An incredibly versatile player who can defend, distribute over short and long distances, dribble and play clever passes in the final third, he is a complete package.

    Still 23 years of age, Gundogan has the potential to play in not only 2018, but 2022. He has a long road to recovery, but four years should be more than enough.

Emre Can (Central Midfielder/Left Back)

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    Michael Probst/Associated Press

    If there is one thing the 2014 World Cup taught Germany fans, it's that three top-class central midfielders are not enough. The Nationalmannschaft struggled in the final, with Christoph Kramer coming in for the injured Khedira and being replaced by winger Andre Schurrle not long after kickoff due to a concussion.

    There can be expected a fierce battle for a spot in the next World Cup team alongside fellow central midfielders Schweinsteiger, Khedira, Kroos and Gundogan. And Emre Can may have an edge by then even over the likes of Sven and Lars Bender.

    Emre is, and has long been, a natural leader, with the makings of a great international footballer. He has an incredible range of physical and technical abilities that make him more comparable to the "complete" Schweinsteiger than the "destroyer" Benders.

    Although still very raw for now, Emre has every chance of walking into a Liverpool first team that can provide a good platform to stardom. He'll turn 24 years old six-months before the next World Cup: Four years' development should be enough for him to achieve his full potential.

Leon Goretzka (Central Midfielder)

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    Matthias Schrader/Associated Press

    Like Emre, Leon Goretzka is a hugely talented natural central midfielder who despite his youth, has to be considered a candidate for the Nationalmannschaft in 2018. The Schalke man is already on Joachim Low's radar, having earned his debut cap in a pre-World Cup friendly against Poland. Not bad for a 19-year-old.

    After a somewhat shaky first season in Gelsenkirchen, Goretzka is still yet to prove himself in a central role. But he's found his way into the first team at a very young age, and certainly will progress over the next four years.

    He has a great frame for shielding and winning the ball, is exceptionally talented in the air and has a great mind for all the nuances of a passing game in central midfield.

    The captain of the German under-17 side in 2012 and the first among that team to be promoted to the under-21s and (along with Max Meyer) the senior Mannschaft, Goretzka is highly rated at the DFB. If he achieves his potential, he could get a place on the plane to Russia in 2018 even ahead of the Bender twins.

Thomas Mueller (Right Winger/Forward)

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    If there is one player that a coach would be absolutely insane to leave out of his Germany team, it's Thomas Mueller. Although a great club player, the Bayern man is simply exceptional when it comes to delivering in World Cups.

    Muller won the golden boot at the 2010 World Cup and equaled his goal tally in 2014, leaving him with 10 career World Cup goals and six assists. All that, and he's still not quite 25 years old.

    Exactly what Mueller's role will be in 2018 is uncertain; he can play left, right and center either as a lone striker or off a main target-man. What is certain, however, is that he at 28 years of age will (provided he is fit) play for Germany in the 2018 World Cup.

Mesut Ozil (Attacking Midfielder)

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    Matthias Schrader/Associated Press

    Mesut Ozil was an ever-present force in the German team during the 2014 World Cup, playing 655 out of a possible 690 minutes. He had previously been criticized heavily by the English press and took flack during the tournament for not creating goals as perhaps was expected of him.

    Low nonetheless kept his faith in Ozil, and the Arsenal man delivered in the semifinal and final especially. Ozil has been at the heart of Germany's attack ever since the fall of 2009 and through thick and thin, Low has stood by him. It's hard to see that changing anytime soon.

    In 2018, Ozil will be 29 years old. He'll still be in his prime and will likely have more competition for playing time, but his superior experience should give him an edge. He'll make the 23-man squad in any case, provided he's fit.

Mario Goetze (Attacking Midfielder/Forward)

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    Matthias Schrader/Associated Press

    The 2014 World Cup was often difficult for Mario Goetze, who although a starter early in the tournament played a progressively lesser role after the first two group-stage games. But it ended on a high note for the 22-year-old, whose winner in the final could mark a turning point in his still-young career.

    Goetze just finished his first season at Bayern Munich; it was a big step for him to become one of many superstars and his progress hit a bit of a roadblock. His ability to turn around his fortunes and come through on the big stage for Germany in Sunday's final shows just how resolute the highly-rated attacker is at this stage in his career.

    Provided he remains fit, Goetze will in four years be a much better player even than he already is. He'll be more experienced, in the athletic prime of his career and, presumably, won't have entered the tournament having had a difficult season in which he only played the full 90 minutes on 13 occasions.

Max Meyer (Attacking Midfielder)

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    Michael Sohn/Associated Press

    Max Meyer made a huge breakthrough during the 2013-14 season, snatching some of the stardust from his Schalke teammate, Julian Draxler. Even at 18 years of age, the hugely talented playmaker made himself a key member of the Gelsenkirchen team and was rewarded at the season's end with his first senior cap for Germany.

    Low has a history of capping young players, like Draxler, shortly before major tournaments and bringing them to the following tournament two years later. That bodes well for the future of Meyer at Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup.

    With near-flawless control in tight spaces and great agility, Meyer is a "street footballer," much like Ozil, Gundogan and Gotze. He'll have plenty of competition for minutes as a playmaker, but if he continues to develop as he has, Meyer could be a big star in four years.

Marco Reus (Left Winger/Supporting Striker/Right Winger)

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    Michael Probst/Associated Press

    The 2014 World Cup was supposed to be Marco Reus' chance to shine, but an ankle injury sustained just days before the tournament ruled him out of the competition. If there is one player in the German team who will be especially motivated to make his mark in 2018, it's the Dortmund attacker.

    A direct player with outstanding shooting ability with both feet, great dribbling skill and lightning pace, Reus is the kind of player who can be unstoppable when determined. He's a big-game player, one who almost single-handedly took down Real Madrid in the Champions League last season.

    Reus will be 29 years of age when the 2018 World Cup begins; it could be the only World Cup of his career. Suffice to say, he'll be supremely motivated.

Andre Schurrle (Left Winger/Forward)

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    Andre Schurrle entered the 2014 World Cup after a tough first season at Chelsea in which he spent most of the season as back-up to Willian. In the national team he was at best second-choice behind Marco Reus and in heavy competition with Lukas Podolski and Mario Goetze. But the 23-year-old really showed his class in Brazil.

    With three goals and three assists (including his perfect set-up for Goetze's winner in the final) off the bench, Schurrle was the very definition of a super-substitute. If he keeps up his progress, he may even be a starter at some point.

    Regardless of how he develops over the next four years, Schurrle will be 27 and in the midst of his best years as a footballer by the time the 2018 World Cup begins. He proved his credentials in Brazil and therefore is in prime position to earn a place in the squad in Russia.

Julian Draxler (Left Winger/Forward)

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    Julian Draxler's 2013-14 season was disappointing, one to forget. His inclusion in Joachim Low's final squad for the World Cup was perhaps somewhat of a surprise considering he only scored once and gave two assists in the second half of the Bundesliga season.

    With that having been said, Draxler is still regarded as a top talent in Germany and is still just 20 years old. He was the second-youngest player in Low's squad and his inclusion in the 23-man team for this summer's tournament was a testament to how well the trainer rates him.

    An explosive player with a great shot, superb technical ability with both feet and good dribbling skills, Draxler has the attributes to be a superb option in the German attack. He has a long way to go, but given that he'll be approaching 25 years of age at the next World Cup, he should be a much more mature and complete player in four years' time.

Timo Werner (Forward/Left Winger)

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    Timo Werner is the youngest of the players on this list of 2018 World Cup probables, but he is by no means the least likely to make the team. The simple fact of the matter is, there aren't many options that Germany have for the striker position. And by 2018, Werner may well be ready to take over for Miroslav Klose.

    Werner, who only turned 18 in March, played in 30 of Stuttgart's 34 Bundesliga matches last season. At 17 years of age, he became the youngest player in Bundesliga history to net a brace. Precious few among the current German heroes come even close to tracking his progress at such a young age. Blessed with exceptional pace, good ball control and unteachable instincts for goal, Werner is a complete package.

    Although used on the wing for most of his first season at Stuttgart, Werner moved to the center later in the season and has been used as a main striker in their pre-season friendlies thus far. It's his natural position and even if he's not physically mature enough to play centrally just yet, he will be by 22. Provided he remains healthy and continues to progress, he could be a superstar by 2018.

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