The defending world champions, Germany, will go into the FIFA World Cup 2018 in Russia as the overwhelming favourites.

“Football is a simple game. Twenty-two men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win.”

Gary Lineker hit the nail right on the head with this quote. Reigning champions Germany qualified for FIFA World Cup 2018 in Russia with a perfect record of 10 wins from 10 in Group C of the UEFA qualifiers.

Die Mannschaft have made it at least to the quarter-finals in every edition of the World Cup since 1982 and have featured in the semi-finals each time since 2002. Having romped home to the trophy last time out in Brazil, they made it to the semi-finals of the UEFA Euro 2016 and then went on to win the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup in Russia, with a largely second-string squad.

Since the semi-final exit in the Euros, Joachim Low’s side have just lost two games, friendlies against Brazil in March and Austria this Saturday. And heading into the tournament in Russia, they are the heaviest favourites to lift the trophy once again.

Group and Fixtures

The champions have been drawn in the Group F alongside fellow European side Sweden with South Korea and Mexico also in tow.

Germany will begin their journey in Russia against Mexico on the 17th of June, before going on to clash against Sweden five days later. They will bring an end to their group stage assignments with a tie against South Korea on the 27th of this month.

The Squad

Joachim Low has announced a preliminary 27-man squad for the FIFA World Cup, which will be further cut down to 23 to adhere to the competition’s guidelines, in the coming week. Here’s the list of players who made the cut:

Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer made it to the squad despite having missed almost the entire season with Bayern Munich with a serious injury.

One of the best in his position in the game, the shot-stopper is expected to be fully ready by the time the tournament kicks off and having made an appearance in the pre-tournament friendly against Austria, he is likely to be the Germans’ No. 1 in the main event, although Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Bernd Leno aren’t exactly the worst backups to count on.

Another major boost for Die Mannschaft was the availability of the extremely talented but unlucky Marco Reus. The Borussia Dortmund star missed the triumph in 2014 and the Euros two years later due to injury issues. But, having made it to the squad this time, he will get his chance to shine on the biggest of stages this time out.

Neuer (R) made it, while Gotze (L) missed out (Photo: Christof Koepsel/Bongarts/Getty Images)
Neuer (R) made it, while Gotze (L) missed out (Photo: Christof Koepsel/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Along with these two, the usual suspects – Mesut Ozil, Thomas Muller, Toni Kroos, Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels all made it to the squad, while there was also a space for veteran striker Mario Gomez, along with Nils Petersen, which meant Bayern Munich forward Sandro Wagner failed to make it to the roster, prompting him to retire from international football.

The most notable absentee, however, was that of Borussia Dortmund playmaker Mario Gotze. The 25-year old, who wrote himself in the annals of the German football team’s history by netting the winner in the 2014 final, has had a difficult past couple of years, but has shown signs of getting back to his best. However, that wasn’t good enough for Low to pick him for the trip to Russia.

Along with Gotze, his Dortmund teammates Julian Weigl and Andre Schurrle have also missed out, while Liverpool midfielder Emre Can is another notable absentee from the 27-man provisional squad, along with Hoffenheim starlet Serge Gnabry.

Real Madrid midfielder Toni Kroos, fresh off the back of a third consecutive UEFA Champions League triumph, will be Germany’s MVP heading into the tournament. He will have to take up the role of the leader for Die Mannschaft, along with the likes of Neuer, Sami Khedira, Ozil and Muller, who have been around for years now.

The Manager

Joachim Low

Joachim Low will be hoping to lead his team to successive WC triumphs (Photo: Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images)
Joachim Low will be hoping to lead his team to successive WC triumphs (Photo: Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images)

The longest-serving manager of a single team in the competition, along with Uruguay’s Oscar Tabarez, Joachim “Jogi” Low has been with the German team for 12 years now, having taken over from Jurgen Klinsmann back in 2006 and has built a colossal outfit that has turned into a near-unbeatable win machine.

Post the Euro exit, many predicted that the 58-year old’s era was drawing to an end, but Low has managed to silence the detractors, by leading the team to Confederations Cup success and by the manner in which the Germans eased through the qualifying stages, they look due for success once again.

A methodical coach who encourages fluid, attacking football, Low makes sure each of his players are thoroughly drilled with the system and tactics, which is one of this team’s biggest asset. While he has experimented with a three-at-the-back formation in recent times, Low is expected to stick with the 4-2-3-1 setup that has reaped him great results.

Neuer, following his performance against Austria in the friendly, should reclaim his place as the No.1 choice between the goal, meaning the unlucky ter Stegen will have to sit out.

Joshua Kimmich has established himself as a key part of this German outfit and will be the preferred option at right-back, while Jonas Hector, who got relegated from the Bundesliga with FC Koln this season, continues to enjoy Low’s trust and should take up the left-back slot.

At the heart of the German defence, Bayern Munich duo of Hummels and Boateng would have been the ideal pair, but the young Niklas Sule might get a look-in, given Boateng’s recent tryst with injuries.

Werner will have to bear the responsibility upfront (Photo: MICHAL CIZEK/AFP/Getty Images)
Werner will have to bear the responsibility upfront (Photo: MICHAL CIZEK/AFP/Getty Images)

Kroos is a definite starter in the two-man midfield for Die Mannschaft, while the likes of Khedira, Sebastian Rudy, Ilkay Gundogan and Leon Goretzka will be competing for the other slot. Juventus star Khedira might be given the nod though, owing to his experience.

Muller is another guaranteed starter for the Germans on the right-flank, while Ozil will be Low’s preferred choice to pull the strings in the hole. Paris Saint-Germain star Julian Draxler will battle against Manchester City’s Leroy Sane for the spot on the left-flank and the latter might have the edge, having played far more regularly than the PSG man.

While Gomez and Petersen have been picked in the squad, the two are going to be the Plan B for Low and Germany, with RB Leipzig’s rising star Timo Werner most likely to be the man leading the line for the champions in Russia.

The 22-year old was a solid performer during the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup and has done well each time when given a chance on the international scene. Will he rise to the occasion in Russia though? Not long before we find out.

Probable Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Neuer; Kimmich, Sule, Hummels, Hector; Kroos, Khedira; Muller, Ozil, Sane; Werner;

THT Verdict

Given the quality of the entire squad and the loads of experience within the ranks, one would be foolish to bet against this Germany side going all the way once again in this summer’s tournament. And Saturday’s defeat against Austria will have come as a major eye-opener for the team, who will now be even more focused on the big prize.

In Joachim Low, they have a manager who seems to have perfected the winning formula for international competitions and with the abundance of talent in the squad, one would expect Die Mannschaft to make it to the semi-finals at the very least and possibly make it two FIFA World Cup triumphs in a row.

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