Wednesday's friendly match against Paraguay is the start to the new season for the German national team. The goal is to end the season at the World Cup final, but several high hurdles stand in Joachim Löw's way.
Tournament hosts Brazil will play as yet unknown opponents in the 2014 World Cup's opening game 302 days from now. A little over a month later, Joachim Löw aims to lift the 18-carat gold trophy at the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro.
"The standard at the World Cup will be high," Löw said ahead of Wednesday's friendly game against Paraguay. "Many countries want the title. But our chances are very fair. We have the quality and every chance of winning, but the top teams are all very close."
The German coach and his backroom colleagues have a lot of work ahead of them, and not very much time to do it. Even in the case of the Paraguay game, Löw had just 55 hours to prepare his team, with the players arriving only after the opening Bundesliga fixtures at the weekend.
"We need to improve on fundamental, instinctive aspects of play and thus gain stability. We need to learn to pressure our opponents immediately. We need to instill this aggression into the entire team," Löw said.
Germany is one of the teams hoping to become the first ever European country to win a World Cup in Latin America. The national team's coach believes his players will need to adapt to their surroundings to make this a reality.
"We must not start thinking that the aim is to take our own ideas with us to Brazil," Löw cautioned. "We need to adapt to the conditions. We must prepare the team for what awaits them there."
Germany did not take part in this summer's Confederations Cup, but Löw traveled to Brazil to sample the atmosphere, the stadiums and the hot climate - especially in the tropical north of the country. The climate is a particular problem considering the high-intensity playing style Germany favors at both ends of the pitch. Löw will be briefing the players in detail on these conditions and on issues like the strain of traveling between venues in the fifth-largest country in the world in terms of land mass.
Bringing the emigrants home
Even for a friendly, Löw has called up the strongest squad currently available to him - including the seven Germany regulars now plying their trade outside the Bundesliga. New additions to this list include Chelsea signing Andre Schürrle and Fiorentina acquisition Mario Gomez.
How fit these players will be is an open question, considering that the English, Italian and Spanish top divisions restart a little later than the Bundesliga. Mesut Özil, Sami Khedira, Miroslav Klose and others are still in the middle of their pre-season preparations. Even Löw confessed that their precise condition was "hard to ascertain."
Just five players who would hope to go to Brazil are missing from the Paraguay squad. Bayern Munich's Mario Götze, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Toni Kroos are all fit, but have just returned from long-term injuries. Julian Draxler picked up a gashed and bruised Achilles tendon in Schalke's draw with Hamburg on Sunday. Holger Badstuber, meanwhile, is out for the foreseeable future; in the worst-case scenario, he might not return in time for the World Cup.
Agony of choice
A headache facing Löw - a "desirable" one, as he puts it - is which 23 players to focus on ahead of the competition. As well as the 20 squad members for Wednesday's game in Kaiserslautern, and the five high-profile absentees, players like Max Kruse, Nicolai Müller and Sidney Sam will hope that another strong season could make their case for inclusion in the regular side. All three made their debuts late last season when Germany's "B-team" toured the US without its stars from Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. Löw also hinted this week that Dortmund goalie Roman Weidenfeller could win his first ever cap, even in the autumn years of his career.
The German DFB football association has been keen to refer to the match against Paraguay as a "mandatory game" ("Pflichtspiel") - one players must attend if called on and if fit. Some other friendlies do not fall under these conditions. Joachim Löw also sought to talk up the friendly match's importance as Germany play Latin American opposition ahead of their summer trip to Brazil.
"The World Cup is just around the corner. This is the final countdown. For me, Paraguay is not a warm-up exercise, you could say this game begins our road to the World Cup," said the 53-year-old coach hoping to follow that path all the way to the end.
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