Title holders Germany go into the 2018 World Cup in Russia as one of the favorites. Coach Joachim Löw still has some problems to overcome, but his squad contains a huge amount of quality. DW takes a detailed look.
Germany are getting ready to defend the World Cup – but Saturday's friendly defeat to Austria showed that there's still work to be done before "Die Mannschaft" head to Russia.
"If we play like that, we'll have no chance; we have a lot to work on," said a clearly unhappy Joachim Löw in the wake of the 2-1 defeat in a rain-soaked stadium in Klagenfurt. "But we're not going to let it get to us. We had similar results in friendlies before previous major tournaments."
Sane no big loss
Löw and his coaching staff have two more weeks to bring the team up to speed before the World Cup opener against Mexico – so there's no reason for the panic that broke out among some journalists following the somewhat surprising omission of Leroy Sané from the final 23-man squad.
By opting to leave the Premier League's "Young Player of the Year" at home, Löw is sacrificing Sané's undeniable dribbling abilities, perhaps the very quality which could decide a close game, even if only from the bench. But, for the German head coach, the squad structure both on and off the pitch is more important than any one talented individual.
- Read more: Joachim Löw has his reasons for leaving out Sané
Praise for Reus but Kroos is the key
And it's not as if the World Cup title holders are lacking quality up front. Take Marco Reus, for example. After missing the last two tournaments though injury, the 29-year-old Borussia Dortmund star is going into his first World Cup as a pivotal part of Löw's system.
"[Reus] is a player who is supremely talented, intelligent and unpredictable for the opposition," said the 58-year-old coach. "He's a refined finisher and has really impressed me."
In addition to the BVB man, Sami Khedira, Mesut Özil, Thomas Müller and Toni Kroos will also be responsible for both stability and flare in midfield, and Real Madrid's Kroos is the all-important pivot in Löw's plan.
The four-time Champions League winner delivers the necessary calm, oversight and key passes which can decide matches.
"[Kroos] works incredibly professionally and is hugely reliable – a pivotal player in every sense," Löw said. "No matter the situation, he never succumbs to nerves."
In contrast to Reus and Kroos, a question mark still hovers above the head of Mesut Özil. The Arsenal star is still suffering from back problems and Löw has insisted that he complete one or two extra training sessions before the tournament gets underway.
- Opinion: Marco Reus must start at the World Cup
Werner: 'All that matters is winning the World Cup'
Having been involved in 31 goals for RB Leipzig this past season (21 goals and 10 assists), Timo Werner isn't just Germany's greatest goal-scoring threat, he has the potential to be one of the players of the tournament in Russia.
"Only one thing matters and that's winning the World Cup," the 22-year-old told German public broadcaster SWR in his hometown of Stuttgart. "It doesn't matter whether you win the golden boot or play more minutes than somebody else."
The German attack features world-class experience and hungry youth – a good mix in anybody's book. And with players such as Julian Brandt, Julian Draxler, Sebastian Rudy, Leon Goretzka and Ilkay Gündogan chomping at the bit, Löw also has great options in reserve.
Boateng and Hummels
Germany's last two friendlies against Austria and Brazil may not have been entirely convincing from a defensive point of view but, when it comes to the crunch at a tournament, there's no doubt that Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels form one of the best defensive partnerships in the world.
And in the unlikely event that Boateng isn't fit in time, Bayern Munich teammate Niklas Süle is a more than adequate back-up, as is Chelsea's Antonio Rüdiger.
"We have some very strong defenders," analyzed Hummels. "Even if we lose two or three, we still have a good selection."
At full back, Joshua Kimmich is as dangerous going forward as he is tenacious at right back, while Jonas Hector is the embodiment of solidity at left back. Still, Kimmich is coming off the back of an exhausting 47-game season with Bayern, and the lack of options beyond Marvin Plattenhardt mean the left back berth is arguably the chink in Germany's armor.
- DW exclusive: Boateng: 'My daughters say I should score more goals'
Neuer gets the nod
Was there ever really any doubt? Despite all the opinions and calls to the contrary, Manuel Neuer has beaten Marc-André ter Stegen to the No. 1 jersey. Germany's captain may have been out for eight months but showed no sign of rust against Austria. There was little he could have done about the two Austrian goals, and in general he looked as if he had never been away.
Operation Title Defense
Joachim Löw has been in this position many times before and knows how to get his team into perfect condition ahead of the World Cup. With a healthy mixture of experience and youth, the Germany squad which will travel to Russia is a strong one, which has every right to target a successful World Cup defense.
So far, the only teams to have achieved that feat are Brazil (1958 and 1962) and Italy (1934 and 1938). But that could all change on July 15 in Moscow.