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Loew Seeking Mental, Physical Toughness for Russia Clash

Germany coach Joachim Loew is keeping his cards close to his chest when it comes to the starting line-up he will opt for come tonight’s World Cup qualifier against Russia in Dortmund.

German soccer coach Joachim Loew

23-year-old goalie Rene Adler will earn his first national team cap against Russia

Even captain Michael Ballack, who is returning from a foot injury after missing Germany's opening two qualifiers against Liechtenstein and Finland, is not a certainty to start in the Group 4 dual.

Loew explained Wednesday he would examine the performance levels and fitness of his squad during training before deciding on a starting XI.

"I want to see that each player is fully prepared mentally and physically for this game, otherwise they will not play," he said. "Only players who are able to give 100 percent will start the match."

In the lead-up to Saturday's clash against Guus Hiddink's Russia, the Baden-Wuerttemberger has had to deal with a conflict between team manager Oliver Bierhoff and Ballack and also sort out a problem with his players' jerseys.

But the 48-year-old has not lost sight of the fixture with Euro 2008 semi-finalists Russia, whom Loew insists demand respect.

"I have rarely seen a team that can change its pace so rapidly. They are incredibly strong in playing forward," he said, adding that he believed the Russian squad -- nicknamed ‘the Red Army' -- was as strong as that of European champions Spain.

Adler to kit up

German national coach Joachim Löw

Loew has been tight-lipped about Germany's starting line-up

One worry Loew can abandon, however, is that of who will stand between Germany's sticks.

The man who was expected to fill that position, Hannover 96 goalie Robert Enke, fractured his hand during training Wednesday and underwent surgery Friday. The 31-year-old, who became first-choice keeper after stalwart Jens Lehmann retired earlier this year, is expected to be out for up to three months.

And so the gloves have been tossed to Bayer Leverkusen young-gun Rene Adler, who will undergo a baptism of fire tonight in front of an expected sell-out crowd of 70,000 at the Westfalenstadion.

"I am looking forward to the game. This is the highlight of my career," the 23-year-old Adler told a news conference Friday.

National goalkeeper coach Andreas Koepke expressed the full faith of the coaching staff in the ability of uncapped Adler, who got the nod ahead of fellow national squad tenderfoot Tim Wiese of Werder Bremen.

"We believe in his ability. Rene will play a super match. I am fully convinced that he will show the same performance as in the Bundesliga," Koepke said.

Russians eye draw

Russian Soccer Team

Russia will be without three players in tonight's clash

While Germany would be expected to go for maximum points in front of a fiercely passionate home crowd, Russian attacking midfielder Andrei Arshavin said Friday his team would be happy to take a solitary point from Die Mannschaft.

"The most dangerous part of the German team is their attack," said the 27-year-old Zenit St Petersberg star. "And a team in which Michael Ballack plays is already dangerous."

Russia coach Guus Hiddink agreed with Arshavin's analysis: "To come to Germany and get a point from a stadium like the one we see in Dortmund would be an absolute top result."

"A Germany team will never give up."

Russia will line up without striker Roman Pavlyuchenko, defender Denis Kolodin and midfielder Dmitry Torbinsky, all ruled out through injury.

The stakes

Having beaten Liechtenstein 6-0 on Sept. 6 and drawn 3-3 with Finland in Helsinki four days later, Germany sits atop Group 4 with four points, only one ahead of Russia who beat Wales 2-1, also early last month.

A win by either Germany or Russia tonight would see them go top of their group, which also features minnows Azerbaijan. Should Germany lose tonight's clash with Russia they could drop to third place if Wales happens to beat Liechtenstein in Cardiff tonight.

In 10 clashes between Russia and Germany, the former has been victorious on only one occasion -- a friendly in 1985.

Likely squad

German captain Michael Ballack runs with the ball during a public training session of the German national soccer team

German captain Michael Ballack returns from injury to lead his country against Russia

At an open training session in Dusseldorf on Tuesday night watched by 21,500 fans, Loew gave some indication as to who might start tonight's clash.

Lukas Podolski featured as an attacking midfielder playing from the left, while Leverkusen's Simon Rolfes was seen in the centre of midfield just in front of Ballack. The Bundesliga's top scorer, Patrick Helmes, was partnered with Miroslav Klose up front.

"Patrick Helmes plays an important role in my planning. He is playing very well at the moment," Loew said.

Expected to start the match are, among those just mentioned, Arne Friedrich, Per Mertesacker, Philipp Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger.

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