Dortmund is currently Löw's main source of new talentImage: picture-alliance/dpa
March 28, 2011
After a routine Euro qualification win on Saturday, Germany are trying out a quartet of young Dortmund players for Tuesday's friendly against Australia. But do they have a chance of getting in the first team?
A Germany vs. Australia friendly soccer match in Mönchengladbach might not sound like the event of the season, but for a few young hopefuls it's another step toward a bright future.
Coach Joachim Löw is set to make as many as 10 changes to the starting lineup, and it won't be because players were worn out by the might of Kazakhstan on Saturday. Now that qualification for the European Championship in Poland and Ukraine next year is all but sewn up, Löw is about to plant the seeds for the future of the national side.
For the match against Australia, senior players like Manuel Neuer and Miroslav Klose are on the bench, while captain Philipp Lahm and Real Madrid midfielders Mesut Özil and Sami Khedira have excused themselves from the squad altogether.
At a press conference Monday, Löw's assistant Hans Flick said Australia, looking to avenge their World Cup drubbing, will provide a rugged test for the rookies. "The Australians are well-organized, very disciplined, and love one-on-one battles and a physical contest," he said. "They don't spare themselves or their opponents."
In a way, Tuesday's match will be nothing short of a window into the future - if potential is any guide, this could be the national team of the 2014 World Cup. And much of the attention will be on a certain Dortmund quartet: Mario Götze, Mats Hummels, Marcel Schmelzer and Sven Bender.
Dortmund are a kind of embryo of the next German team, and are in a tactically similar mold to the team Löw created (with some assistance from Jürgen Klinsmann). Like the Germany of South Africa 2010, they love quick turnovers and exhilarating counterattacks.
Grooming the raw talent
There's probably no better personification of this than Götze, who has the least to prove of all the new players.
Last November, he became Germany's second youngest national team player ever, when he came on the pitch in a friendly against Sweden at the age of 18 and four months.
Since then, he's already made a good case to be the default impact substitute. The Australia game will be his fourth playing for Germany, but his first start. "Let's not go on too long about Mario Götze," Löw said before February's friendly against Italy, when he played the entire second half. "We can all see what skill and intelligence he has as a player."
On top of his vision and pace, Götze's prime asset is his flexibility - being two-footed, he slots in well on either side of the attacking midfield. This gives him a lot of scope to capitalize on injuries in the first team.
Competing to defend
But it's the defense that needs the most work in the Germany side, and where the biggest question marks hang over certain positions - particularly left-back and the second central defender next to Per Mertesacker.
Arne Friedrich is the staple choice for the central role, but he is 31 and recovering from injury, and now he faces stiff competition from Mats Hummels.
Hummels has made the position his own at Dortmund, and was recently ranked top of kicker magazine's list of Bundesliga central defenders. Löw recently pinpointed his qualities - he's a "modern" defender, the coach said of the 22-year-old, a man who can read the game and start an attack from the back. But kicker preferred to reach into history to describe him - according to them, his recent performances have called to mind the ultimate German defensive archetype: Franz Beckenbauer.
On the left of defense, meanwhile, Schmelzer looks set to get his second start for Germany. The position is a distinctive challenge, and not one that many can meet. Schmelzer is competing with his friend from the under-21 team, Dennis Aogo, who played there against Kazakhstan, but six others have taken the role since last summer, mostly grudgingly.
It's Löw's perennial headache. "There are only a few players with a strong left foot and who can play offense," said Schmelzer recently. But few will dare to hope that he is the answer, if only because so many hopefuls have been and gone before. Germany is still searching for the Holy Grail - the new Andreas Brehme.
The unsung debutant
Sven Bender, who will earn his very first cap on Tuesday, remains the least celebrated of the quartet, and the one with the toughest competition. The 21-year-old defensive midfielder is essentially competing for Sami Khedira's position - the unobtrusive facilitator between defense and midfield.
Barring injury, it's hard to see Khedira lose the role he won last year from Torsten Frings and Michael Ballack, but Bender is singularly suited for the role. Having graduated to Dortmund's first team, he's appeared 25 times in this season's Bundesliga, and he's made himself the key midfield cover while his colleagues stream forward.
But the problem for the Dortmund quartet remains the fact that they can do little but hope for competitive football on the national side. The defense aside, Löw has pretty much made up his mind for every position on the field, and seems to have settled on a starting 11 to take him to Euro 2012.
So while they'll have to wait for their moment, these four players remain persuasive evidence of Germany's strength in depth.