Germany look to end title drought
Star-studded and hungry, Germany can end a long title drought
Germany have had their fill of near misses.
They have had enough of coming second, third or fourth.
This year, their only ambition is to take that final step and bring home the World Cup. And it would take a brave soul to rule them out.
Die Mannschaft have narrowly missed out on silverware in four consecutive tournaments.
In 2006, Juergen Klinsmann led a team short on confidence to the World Cup semi-finals where the hosts were defeated by Italy in one of the most sparkling games of the tournament.
Two years later, with his former assistant Joachim Loew at the helm, they reached the final of the European Championships, only to be beaten by Spain in Vienna.
Hopes were high for the 2010 World Cup, but again Spain denied them, this time in the semi-finals. At Euro 2012, it looked as if Loew would have his revenge, but with Spain awaiting them in the final, Germany managed to trip up against Italy in the semi-finals.
Long-suffering German fans could be forgiven for wondering what else their team have to do to actually win something.
And yet, for all of the high profile slip-ups, this is still a happy ship.
Hardly surprising, given what has gone before.
Under Berti Vogts, Germany won Euro '96 in England, but the national team deteriorated quickly afterwards.
The 1998 World Cup campaign ended with a humiliating 3-0 defeat to Croatia, while a disastrous showing at Euro 2000 forced the German Football Association to take drastic action.
Having seen their team finish at the bottom of their group stage, beaten by a poor England side along the way, they made widespread changes to the domestic game, insisting, among other things, on a complete overhaul of the academy system.
Now, 14 years on, they are reaping the rewards.
There are few squads with more depth than this one. In almost every position, there is so much quality that it would make any rival manager green with envy.
The midfield is a particular strong point with players like Bastian Schweinstiger, Thomas Mueller and Mesut Oezil leading the charge for a first-team place.
If there is a weak spot, it's up front where Miroslav Klose and young Kevin Volland are the only specialist strikers.
That may not be a problem, however, given Loew's penchant for a false Nine, usually Mario Goetze.
There are a few minor causes for concern. The astonishing slip-up in a World Cup qualifiers in 2012 against Sweden, where a 4-0 lead swiftly became a 4-4 draw, has left a lasting effect on the national consciousness.
Per Mertesacker has excelled for Arsenal, but can occasionally look ungainly, and Marcel Schmelzer has never entirely convinced at left back.
There is also the small matter of being drawn in the one of the most challenging groups for this month's tournament.
Portugal lack a striker and are reliant on Cristiano Ronaldo, but that didn't stop them reaching the semi-finals of World Cup 2006 and Euro 2012.
Ghana and the United States are both competent, dangerous teams, entirely capable of beating the Germans if they start well. There is no cannon fodder in this group, no easy way of racking up goals.
But with Germany's arsenal of talent, they should have enough to progress safely to the latter stages, especially as they are immune to all but the most catastrophic of injury crises.
If they lose Goetze, they have Julien Draxler.
If they lose Schweinstiger, they have Sami Khedira.
If they lose Mueller, they have Toni Kroos.
They are the most talent-laden team in international football and maybe, just maybe, this is their year.
I do not want to go out in the semifinals again or visit Brazil just to soak up the sun. I have a clear goal, to achieve the biggest possible success and win the World Cup.
— Germany skipper Phillip Lahm
LOEW CHASES GREATNESS
Germany coach Joachim Loew knows there is much more at stake at the World Cup than simply ending his country's 18-year title drought in a major competition.
The Finals in Brazil is almost certainly the softly-spoken 54-year-old's (above) last chance to lift the World Cup with the national team, with his contract ending after Euro 2016.
With a record of 70 victories and 15 defeats in 102 internationals, Loew has a better win-loss ratio than any of his predecessors dating back to 1978. They include Franz Beckenbauer, who led the team to the 1990 World Cup crown, and Berti Vogts, who was in charge when they won their most recent major trophy at Euro 96.
Loew has steered his side into two semi-finals and one final in his three tournaments in charge, but patience among the success-spoilt German fans is starting to run out.
"I wish our team could get some more recognition for playing this creative and attacking football," said Loew, who does not want to go down as the most successful Germany coach never to have won a title.
Meticulous in his planning and detailed in his tactics, Loew has instilled an attacking gene in Germany, who want to become the first European team to lift the trophy in a World Cup held in South America.
Since taking over from Juergen Klinsmann in 2006, he has introduced a long list of young players including Mesut Oezil, Mario Goetze and Marco Reus.
But the prevailing sense of urgency is not lost on him.
Loew told his players in March that anyone found slacking in the last months of the season, however important they were for the team, would not be travelling to Brazil.
"In those conditions, that heat and humidity, we can only use players who are 100 per cent fit.
"History shows you that if you want to win the title you have to have top, fit players. That was the case in 1974 and 1990," he said, in reference to the two most recent World Cup victories as West Germany.
Success in Brazil would give Loew a place among the pantheon of German greats while failure could reduce him to a mere footnote - despite his winning record. - Reuters.
VERSATILE GOETZE TO SPARK GERMAN CHARGE
Midfielder Mario Goetze has seen his reputation and career skyrocket in the past four years, winning Bundesliga titles and becoming Germany coach Joachim Loew's secret weapon.
The 2010 World Cup came too soon for Bayern Munich's 21-year-old but he has since dazzled with his versatile and creative game.
His rise through the German ranks has been spectacular, with Loew opting at times to use the offensive midfielder as his lone striker.
Goetze (above) seems to represent best what Loew has been striving to achieve.
The coach, who selected the youngest German squad in 76 years at the 2010 World Cup, has been working to make his side even fast and more attack-minded.
Audacious in his game and with the ability to score from any angle, Goetze is equally effective in slicing open defences with close-range passing.
While it is anyone's guess who will start for Loew, Goetze could well be Germany's driving force in attack at the Finals.
"We should not stick to specific positions," Goetze said. "We are flexible and we just need to occupy the spaces."
It is exactly this game that Loew wants to see in Brazil with players shifting positions, changing the balance of play and charging forward.
In Goetze, he could not have found a better representative of Germany's "beautiful game". - Reuters.