Ahead of England's match with Germany on Tuesday, David Bowers examines the German squad and assesses their chances of World Cup glory in Brazil next year
By David Bowers @davidalexbowers
Last Updated: 19/11/13 8:21am
After Germany's group stage elimination in Euro 2000 the German Football Association (DFB) began an intensive investigation into their state of affairs.
After increasing the number of domestic coaches and focusing on the nurturing of home-grown youth players, next year's World Cup will determine the success of their blueprint.
Germany coach Joachim Low has suggested that England should follow their model if they want to become a major international force. It's hard to argue against such a sentiment when you examine the German squad, blessed with frightening strength in depth.
David Bowers assesses an impressive talent pool and Germany's quest to achieve World Cup glory for the first time since East and West united.
Germany have an outstanding group of goalkeepers at their disposal, arguably the most talented group in international football. Put into perspective, Barcelona target Marc-Andre ter Stegen and UEFA Champions League finalist Roman Weidenfeller have just three caps between them, with the latter receiving his first call-up last week at the age of 33.
Ter Stegen and Weidenfeller are battling it out with Hannover's highly-rated Ron-Robert Zieler and Hamburg's Rene Adler for a place in the squad, never mind the number one jersey. They'd be accused of having delusions of grandeur if they think they have a remote chance of toppling the immovable Manuel Neuer.
Neuer was drafted into the squad after the tragic passing of Robert Enke, who was number two behind Adler. After a series of impressive performances, Neuer was chosen to guard the German posts in South Africa for the 2010 World Cup. Neuer's goal at Bayern Munich has remained unblemished throughout his tenure, but internationally he has been sitting in front of a defence that has been recognised as Germany's weak link. In World Cup qualifying they conceded as many goals as Group C rivals Austria.
However, after Oliver Kahn comfortably occupied the gloves for eleven years, the fierce goalkeeping competition is ensuring that Germany's goal will remain unscathed for years to come, providing they can plug a relatively leaky defence.
"Of course we want to improve defensively and it is something we will be working on," said Low after conceding three goals to Sweden last month.
During that game, centre-backs Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels were criticised for a lack of defensive discipline, with Sweden's opening two goals coming after the duo's somewhat erratic defensive line was sliced open by two simple passes through the middle. Low's side are fortunate to have an abundance of top-class attacking players, as they eventually ran out 5-3 winners.
However, the rest of the world took notice. Germany has a weak link. It may not be as weak as it once was and it's certainly not a back four who would likely concede five to England, but compared to the rest of the team it's an area that is not blessed with an array of talent.
Captain Philipp Lahm remains a world-class right back and pivotal figure, accompanied by a pair of respected left-backs in Dortmund's Marcel Schmelzer and Hamburg's Marcell Jansen. Recognised for their attacking tendencies, it's vital that Low sticks by his promise to improve a slightly-faltering centre-half partnership if he wants to give his full-backs a licence roam.
As a partnership Per Mertesacker and Benedikt Howedes have been described as too slow for the international game by their critics, despite solid form for Arsenal and Schalke respectively. Questions marks remain as to whether they have the credentials to keep out the world's elite strikers.
The German back four has improved considerably since the turn of the millennium though, with a variety of top-class full backs at their disposal. If Low can fulfil his promise of improving the centre of his backline, it'll be harder to pinpoint any weaknesses in the squad.
The list of superlatives for the German midfield is endless - a view evidently shared by the major European clubs. Midfielders Mesut Ozil, Mario Gotze and Andre Schurrle commanded a combined transfer fee of £91.5m this summer, whilst squad man Ilkay Gundogan is regularly linked with a big-money move to Manchester United.
The German midfield scored 30 of their 36 goals in World Cup qualifying. Ozil largely played in a false nine position, leading to the Arsenal midfielder topping the goalscoring charts with eight goals in ten games. Low has followed a similar formula to Vicente Del Bosque's Spanish side by opting to avoid playing a striker on occasion, and who can blame him?
They have called up no fewer than eleven midfielders for their friendlies against Italy and England, which includes Champions League winners Toni Kroos and Thomas Muller, Real Madrid's tireless defensive anchor Sami Khedira and Schalke's hot prospect Julian Draxler. Even more daunting for their World Cup rivals is that vice-captain Bastian Schweinsteiger is yet to be mentioned.
The Bayern Munich playmaker was an instrumental figure in last year's Champions League glory and it's was a victory even sweeter for the Bavarian-born star given he recently confirmed that back in 2008 his days at the Bavarian giants looked numbered after a prolonged spell of poor form. He, like the national side, has shown that an unrelenting desire to improve can reap rich rewards.
A midfield that's resplendent in attacking flair has torn European defences to shreds whilst ripping up the traditional tactical rulebook. Along with Spain, Germany are pioneering the success of the false nine position through a series of devastating displays, scoring an average of 3.6 goals a game in their qualifying campaign. Even the staunchest sceptic with regards that the merits of the false-nine position must concede the current German midfield is providing food for the thought.
Those who don't believe Low is prepared to continue with the false nine approach can look at his selection for their upcoming friendlies. With Miroslav Klose and Mario Gomez both injured, he's opted to call up just one recognised striker, Borussia Monchengladbach's Max Kruse.
Low has the luxury of affording to switch tactics thanks to an abundance of top players, and if he does decide to deploy the use of an out-and-out striker, he'll be comforted by the inclusion of Kruse. The former Freiburg man has fired in seven goals in 11 games for a Gladbach side who currently sit fourth in the Bundesliga and has been one of the stars of the domestic season.
He, like Klose and Gomez, will be hoping to persuade Low to adopt a more traditional system by deploying a classical striker. Competition for that spot will only increase when the injured duo return.
Special mention goes to Klose, who will be looking to build on the 130 caps he has picked up since his debut in 2001. He is currently Germany's joint all-time top scorer with 68 goals alongside Gerd Muller, whilst level on 14 World Cup goals with Muller and just one behind all-time top scorer Ronaldo. If Low opts to start a striker, Klose - who will be keen to finish a glittering international career by cementing his place in World Cup folklore - may just be his best bet.