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Löw looking for a team equipped to take a title

As expected, Jogi Löw’s men got off to a good start in their drive to take part in the World Cup in Brazil in 2014. Yet the point is not just to get through, but to create a team able to break Spain’s title stranglehold.

Among the very limited conclusions to be drawn from Germany's 3-0 win over the Faroe Islands in Hanover on Friday is the fact that Mario Götze seems to be gradually recovering from injury and should be a factor in the Germany squad for the next couple of years. Götze opened the scoring with a solo slalom that showed why he could be so very valuable to Coach Löw.

Mesut Özil was also back to his characteristic cool efficiency, slotting home Germany's other goals. The playmaker had been criticized for inconsistency at the 2012 European Championship and for his club Real Madrid, so his steady performance will be a boost.

Otherwise, Germany did what was expected of them: easily beat a hopelessly overmatched opponent from a country with only 50,000 inhabitants. Tougher foes will come, but none of the other Group C  competitors - Sweden, Austria, the Republic of Ireland and Kazakhstan - should have Löw leaving sweat stains in his signature cashmere jumpers.

It's easy to see Germany romping through this group with a perfect record, as they did during the Euro 2012 qualifiers. But as Löw and Co. found out this summer, a fine qualifying campaign is no guarantee a team can compete for the ultimate prize.

Too damn nice?

Germany's Bastian Schweinsteiger reacts in front of celebrating Spanish players throwing their coach Luis Aragones in the air, after the Euro 2008 final between Germany and Spain in the Ernst-Happel stadium in Vienna, Austria, Sunday, June 29, 2008, the last day of the European Soccer Championships in Austria and Switzerland. Spain defeated Germany 1-0. (ddp images/AP Photo/Frank Augstein) Finale Deutschland Spanien 2008

Schweinsteiger's Germany haven't been able to solve Spain

 Ahead of Brazil, there is more skepticism about the German national team than there has been in years. After losing only to Spain in 2008 and 2010, most people considered the young Nationalelf the second-best team in the world heading into Poland and Ukraine. Indeed, no shortage of pundits thought 2012 would be the year the squad matured and dethroned the Spaniards.

Nothing of the sort happened. Germany cruised until coming up against an Italy led by canny veteran Andrea Pirlo. Löw's charges deservedly lost. Spain then thrashed Italy 4-0 in the final in a performance so dominating that there was no reason to think Germany would have had a chance against the defending World Cup champs and double European Championship winners.

In the aftermath of Euro 2012, Löw had to listen to some unaccustomed criticism. Pundits carped that Germany seemed to have no plan B in their loss to Italy, and that the squad went down far too meekly and politely.

Löw's starting 11 against the Faroes could be interpreted as a concession to those critics. 27-year-old Lukas Podolski was benched in favor of 23-year-old Marco Reus. In the wake of the Italy loss, some commentators and many fans complained that Löw had favored his ineffective regulars over younger talents like Reus and André Schürrle.

Midfield is where most football games are won or lost, and it's the reason Spain have been so unbeatable over the past six years. Löw has a host of talent in this area of the pitch at his disposal. In addition to the players already named, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Thomas Müller and Sami Khedira are no slouches, either.

But the question is: Which is the right combination to neutralize Spain's Alonso-Xavi-Iniesta-Fabregas axis? Is it a squad packed with speedy dribblers like Götze who are capable of producing unexpected moments of individual brilliance? Or should Löw be going more physical like the Netherlands squad that almost upset Spain in the finals of the 2010 World Cup?

Löw won't have any chance to test out various hypotheses during the World Cup qualifiers. None of Germany's Group C opponents is anything like Spain.

The legacy of Cordoba

Marko Arnautovic

Arnautovic will hope to create trouble for the German defense

Germany's next opponents are their neighbors Austria on Tuesday in Vienna. Germany have dominated this head-to-head match-up over the years, but the fixture always brings back shameful memories for the larger nation.

In the 1978 World Cup in Argentina, defending champs Germany crashed out of the tournament early after losing their final group stage match to Austria 3-2. It was the last game ever for legendary German coach Helmut Schön and went down in history, depending on one's perspective, as either the "miracle" or the "humiliation of Cordoba."

The connection between Austria and German football's equivalent of Waterloo creates a special buzz every time these two teams meet. And the Austrians are much more credible opponents than the Faroe Islanders.

Not surprisingly, given the two countries' geographical and cultural proximity, many of the stand-outs in the Austrian squad play their club football in Germany. On Tuesday, Löw's men will be up against a pair of fine defenders in Christian Fuchs (Schalke) and Emanuel Pogatetz (Wolfsburg) as well as a couple of potentially troublesome attackers in Martin Harnik (Stuttgart) and Marko Arnautovic (Bremen).

But although red is one of their colors, Das Team, as the Austrians are known, are a far, far cry from La furia roja. Austria were also in Germany's qualifying group for Euro 2012 and finished a distant fourth with a losing record and a negative goal differential. Indeed, they've yet to qualify for a major tournament in the new millennium.

So expect a comfortable, if not quite so easy German win in Vienna - a result that probably won't do much to answer the question of whether Germany have the right stuff needed to finally win another title.

Author: Jefferson Chase
Editor: Chuck Penfold