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Second-stringers give Loew food for thought ahead of Euro qualifiers

With the qualifying stage for the 2012 European Championships beginning in September, a number of second-string stars were looking to impress Germany coach Joachim Loew during Wednesday's friendly draw in Denmark.

Joachim Loew

Loew saw some things he liked but others he clearly didn't

For 74 minutes in Copenhagen, it looked as though Joachim Loew had become one of those blessed coaches whose talent pool is such that he can throw a second string of players onto a pitch and get the same type of performance and result as he would have expected his A-listers to produce.

This was a Germany team shorn of almost all of its World Cup stars and filled with debutants, cameo performers and bit-part players charged with taking on a Denmark team smarting from a hugely forgettable summer in South Africa. The Danes, while introducing a few unknowns in the hope of kick-starting a new era, still had a number of experienced players on show and with a home crowd behind them, they may have been expected to give Germany's reserves a torrid time.

But despite never playing together as a full team before and in a formation rarely used by Loew, the German players slowly started to look comfortable in each other's company and for the majority of the game, they appeared in little danger of leaving Copenhagen without a victory.

While Loew is unlikely to ever field this team again or play his regular starters in this tactical shape, a number of players will have improved their chances of joining the first team for the upcoming Euro 2012 qualifiers and perhaps the European Championships themselves in Poland and Ukraine in two years time.

Der Hammer returns to form with added nuances

Germany's Thomas Hitzlsperger, left, and Mario Gomez celebrate after scoring

Hitzlsperger set up Mario Gomez for Germany's first goal

One performance that will have given the Germany coach food for though was that of Thomas Hitzlsperger. Given the captain's armband in the absence of warring skippers Philipp Lahm and Michael Ballack, Hitzlsperger's inclusion as Germany's leader in the centre of midfield was just reward for Der Hammer after fighting back from a severe loss of form.

After losing confidence and his touch at VfB Stuttgart – and his place in the Germany team – Hitzlsperger's transfer to Lazio in January could have been the moment he dropped off Germany's radar. But despite being overlooked for the World Cup, Hitzlsperger – now with West Ham in the English Premiership – has shown the hunger to come back and has recaptured his form.

There was plenty of the marauding midfield work of old but a season in Serie A's less frenetic atmosphere appears to have refined parts of Hitzlsperger's game which contributed to some considering him a blunt instrument. It was a delicately feigned shot followed by a deft, penetrating pass into the penalty area on 19 minutes that set up Mario Gomez for Germany's first goal and until he was replaced in the second half, Hitzlsperger was a worthy stand-in for Bastian Schweinsteiger in the conductor's role.

Gentner's craft catches the eye

Christian Gentner

Former Wolfsburg star Gentner made a good impression

Playing off Hitzlsperger was another player who should have done enough to convince Jogi Loew to continue his freshening-up of the Germany team. Germany's midfield showed no signs of suffering from the loss of Ballack in South Africa, and with Toni Kroos also showing in Copenhagen why he could soon be a first team regular, one might think it overly optimistic to think that Christian Gentner may force his way into the national team's starting line-up.

While Hitzlsperger will certainly give Loew a new option in defensive midfield, Gentner put on a performance that could see him challenging for a role in the creative trio the Germany coach normally deploys behind his lone striker.

The VfB Stuttgart midfielder was a livewire throughout. Gentner was mobile, showed great vision and provided a number of killer passes. Drifting across the pitch behind Mario Gomez and Patrick Helmes, Gentner was consistently probing the Danish defensive line. It was his perfectly timed pass which led to Germany's second goal. Receiving a great pass from Jerome Boateng on the edge of the area, Gentner held the ball up long enough for Helmes to time his run before threading a pass between the center-backs and onto Helmes' boot. The Bayer Leverkusen striker did the rest.

Stand-in strikers score but leave much to be desired

Patrick Helmes

Helmes needs the composure he shows with Leverkusen

Helmes, who missed the World Cup through injury after a good season with Leverkusen, showed signs that he could be a worthy understudy to Miroslav Klose in the Germany attack but the frequency and ease of the opportunities he wasted suggested that he needs more composure at this level and will certainly remain behind Klose and Thomas Mueller in the attacking pecking order in the Euro qualifiers.

But Gomez, his well taken goal aside, played in a way that only reinforced the opinion that he must have some incriminating photos of his coach in a vault somewhere. Only someone with some nefarious hold over the man who picks the team can continue to get a game when he plays so abjectly. Even in a second-string team, Gomez rarely justified his inclusion as an international striker.

Elsewhere, there were encouraging signs that Christian Traesch could make good on his potential and challenge for a consistent role in midfield while Toni Kroos and Marko Marin – building on their cameo performances at the World Cup – will certainly feature in the Euro qualifiers and would be good bets to see increased action at the 2012 tournament.

Despite his woeful pass which led to Dennis Rommedahl pulling a goal back just a minute after Helmes put Germany 2-0 up, defender Serdar Tasci had a competent game at left back until that mistake wrecked his confidence. On the other side of defence, Sascha Reither was also solid until the final 15 minutes; although it is unlikely he will ever unseat Philipp Lahm in the starting line-up. The makeshift German defence as a whole battled well until the 74th minute when Rommedahl's goal gave Denmark belief and shattered that of Germany's back four.

Wiese's strong showing in goal tarnished by late blunder

With their two-goal lead slashed in half, Germany looked rattled in defence and nervous in attack with Gomez and Helmes blowing gilt-edged chances to make the score 3-1 in the final ten minutes. Instead, Denmark seized their chance.

Germany goalkeeper Tim Wiese

Wiese kept Denmark at bay until the final 15 minutes

Stand-in keeper Tim Wiese – who had an excellent game until his defense imploded in front of him – chose to rush out to deal with a dangerous through ball. Finding himself on the edge of his area, the Werder Bremen stopper was caught in two minds whether to use his hands, choosing instead to chest the ball to Mads Junker. The Danish striker knocked the ball round the stranded Wiese before slotting it into an empty net to complete Denmark's comeback and the German collapse.

It was Wiese's first real mistake of the game but it was glaring one. With Rene Adler returning from the injury that kept him from being the Number One in South Africa, and Germany's World Cup keeper Manuel Neuer enhancing his reputation this summer, even without his 87th minute howler Wiese faced an uphill struggle to make ground on his rivals. It's likely he'll remain the third choice throughout the Euro qualifiers and beyond.

Author: Nick Amies
Editor: Ben Knight

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