How Germany have evolved since 2014
Written by: Srinivasan
The reigning World champions retain a large portion of the squad that lifted the title in 2014, except for some key senior players.
Since their horror show during Euro 2004, Germany have come on leaps and bounds in terms of how their football is perceived globally, in addition to ensuring that they have a conveyor belt of talent for the senior side for atleast the next 4-5 major tournaments.
From delighting their fans at home in 2006 to unveiling the future in 2010 culminating in lifting the coveted trophy in 2014, it was the end of a highly organized revamp of a football system. However, the Germans are known not to rest on their laurels and began preparations for 2018 right from the word go.
Germany lost at the semi-final stage in 2010 to eventual champions Spain
While the team has exciting young talent waiting to make a mark, there is no substitute for big game experience and leadership. This is something that the Germans have lost over the course of the last four years.
Figureheads such as Phillip Lahm, Per Mertesacker, Bastian Schweinsteiger and World Cup record goalscorer Miroslav Klose bid adieu to the national team post 2014. What has remained is coach Joachim Low, a few of his trusted lieutenants and a cast iron will to win that has not vanished from the ranks.
While Low has overseen the integration of young talent into the German ranks, he always had the luxury of a core group of leaders who had been there and done that for the national team. They had seen heartbreak in 2006 at home to Italy, in the final in 2008 against Spain and in the semi-finals in 2010 and 2012. The meaning of playing for the national team was driven home more firmly by these senior figures.
However, the batch of 2010 have now stepped into these large shoes and hope to make the same impact as their predecessors. Toni Kroos, Jerome Boateng, Thomas Muller, Sami Khedira and Manuel Neuer may not be seen in the same light as the Class of 2014, but they do constitute a spine for the squad that is crucial if Germany are to retain the World Cup.
Fresh faces such as Bernd Leno, Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Julian Brandt and Jonathan Tah add quality to a squad that can seem daunting even if Low picks a second choice XI, as seen in their Confederations Cup campaign last year.
A few key names have become indispensable for Low since the retirement of his senior statesmen. Jonas Hector gave a superb account of himself during Euro 2016 and it gives the manager a high degree of tactical flexibility given his ability to play as a wing-back or a full-back.
It is a far cry from the situation in 2014 when Low was forced to play Benedikt Howedes at left-back on many occasions. Joshua Kimmich has well and truly become Lahm's successor for both club and country. The 23-year old is a tireless presence at right-back and he comes in on the back of a successful domestic season with Bayern.
Niklas Sule will no doubt fill in for Boateng alongside Mats Hummels if the latter is not fit to compete in time for the tournament. While Kroos is expected to be a constant, Sami Khedira will compete with the likes of Leon Goretzka and Sebastian Rudy in a midfield that is crucial to Low's system.
However, it is in the attack that the Germans are spoilt for riches. Julian Draxler and Julian Brandt both add breathtaking pace to the wings, while Leroy Sane has well and truly arrived for Die Mannschaft after a blistering season with Pep Guardiola's Manchester City. Timo Werner's breakthrough season with RB Leipzig has earned him a call-up over Sandro Wagner and he will compete with old hand Mario Gomez.
Elsewhere, this is also a chance for some names who either were not picked for the 2014 extravaganza or were ruled out due to injury. Gomez returns to once again prove to his doubters that he can replace the legendary Klose upfront.
Ilkay Gundogan's expertise in the middle of the park will be vital as he seeks to replace Schweinsteiger. Marco Reus who missed out on a winner's medal in 2014 thanks to an injury he picked up before the tournament will get a chance to prove his worth before Low narrows on his final 23.
Barring Neuer, the tournament may not be the swansong act for a large number of the German squad as they are yet to hit the 30 mark. However, it will not prevent Die Mannschaft from aiming for another world crown to add to their already rich history.
Published: Sun May 27, 2018 06:46 PM IST