Now that the teams are all qualified for the World Cup 2014, perhaps it’s a good time to comment on the state of the national squad before the groups are drawn in Brazil.
Joggi Löw certainly has a fine squad, and a lot of players to choose from, but this time the expectations are going to very high. If Germany doesn’t at least make the finals – perhaps even win it all – it will be considered a failure. Löw built a young squad that came of age in South Africa 2010, but the Euro 2012 already saw some criticism when Germany failed against their Angstgegner Italy. Then in the qualifiers – which Germany again dominated, there were whispers when the squad gave up a 4-0 lead against Sweden to suffer a draw. Then even the rematch in Sweden, they had to bludgeon their hosts to administer the beat down, but it was rough. Criticism is beginning to get leveled at Löw and his coaching staff for being unable to adjust when a match begins to change. Some opinion pols already are stating that Löw isn’t the man to lead Germany. That seems a bit silly, but typically the Germans tend to look at everything pessimistically.
The last couple of outings really weren’t terrible: a 1-1 away draw to Italy, and a 1-0 win at Wembley with a largely B squad, but the main outcome of these is the grave injury to Sami Khedira, who now is in danger of missing the World Cup. Khedira has been an outstanding player in Löw’s national team, and although Germany has equally talented players, it will be interesting to see what Löw does to blend them in. The other major area of doubt is in the striker role. Klose is old and injury prone, and Gomez looks like he will be battling injuries from now on in his career too. Perhaps Germnay’s best out-and-out striker is Leverkusen’s Stefan Kiessling, but he’s in Löw’s doghouse, and Kiessling feels insulted and has stated he’ll never play for Löw. While typically Kiessling has in fact sucked in his opportunities, in the last couple of seasons he’s become a more complete striker, and would be a decent option. Germany does have quite a few attacking midfielders that could play “false strikers” (like Reus, Götze, Thomas Müller or even Podolski or Schürrle), but Germany has never really operated well with that type of system. The midfield is clearly Germany’s strength, and we haven’t even mentioned Kroos, Schweinsteiger, özil and Gündogan. Here Löw’s main problem is getting them all playing time.
On defense, the main problem seems to be the inconsistency and injury proneness of Hummels, although Mertesacker has slowly played himself into decent form. Captain Philip Lahm of course is still world class, and he tends to get filled in wherever Löw sees a weakness. Boateng seems on the verge of nailing down a spot although he has had some problems in high profile matches.
Goalkeeping isn’t an issue, although obviously löw should bitch-slap Neuer once in a while to keep him from going all Higuita.
As for teams that surprised in qualifying, I don’t know that there are too many. Zlatan Ibrahimovic states that’s it’s an outrage that he won’t be present, but he needs to shut up. First, he was outplayed by Cristiano Ronaldo (as much as I hate to admit it, the pretty boy scored all four of Portugal’s goals and qualified Portugal single handledly.) Second, Sweden is really no good, you gave up nine goals against Germany, so you wouldn’t be doing much in Brazil except drinking caipirinhas anyway. France got lucky against Ukraine, once again a faulty call helps them out. Of course, FIFA and everybody else would rather see Les Bleus than Ukraine, but perhaps we’ll be treated to another Gallic meltdown as happened in 2010, which could be an entertaining side show. I suppose it’s a bit insulting that Mexico gets in by the backdoor (pronounced “New Zealand”), but the problem there is really that CONCACAF gets too many spots…at least the playoff spot should go to Africa.