After the media blow-up that was the Philipp Lahm saga, it’s back to business today with the just-released squad list for the European Championship qualifier against Austria (2nd September) in Gelsenkirchen and the friendly international against Poland (6th September) in Danzig (Gdańsk). There are no massive surprises in the twenty-three man squad, but there are a few changes from that named for the friendly against Brazil earlier this month – and one brand new name.
That new name is Hannover 96’s Ron-Robert Zieler, another one of the bunch of young up-and-coming goalkeepers currently plying their trade in the Bundesliga – a selection that is no great surprise to many Bundesliga-watchers but did raise a few eyebrows in Dortmund, with in-form BVB ‘keeper Roman Weidenfeller sounding more than a bit miffed at being overlooked yet again.
“Maybe I need to cut my hair or something, I don’t know … I always had a very evil phrase ready on the tip of my tongue, but I think I would prefer just to keep it to myself. Maybe there will soon be some other young goalkeeper in a kids’ camp somewhere who will be called up should anybody else miss out.”
While it’s true that Jogi Löw has continually put his faith in younger players, Weidenfeller must surely have noticed that Tim Wiese – whose hair is just as long – is still on the squad. While I have no issue with the selection of Zieler – I actually name-dropped both him and Weidenfeller in this blog back in March this year – I would have dropped Wiese, whose temperament I have always likened to the potty Jens Lehmann but without the moments of brilliance.
In defence, Marcel Schmelzer returns in place of Dennis Aogo, and Per Mertesacker also makes a welcome return; while the Dortmund man is likely to be left on the bench – at least for the Austria game – Merte’s return does pose a few selection problems, especially with Mats Hummels‘ impressive performance against Brazil where he did an excellent job marshalling the centre of the defence. If Mertesacker and Hummels both play with one of the wing-back positions occupied by skipper Philipp Lahm, it leaves the Nationaltrainer to pick one from Holger Badstuber and Christian Träsch.
There are ten midfield players in the squad, and Mesut Özil – rested for the Brazil game – should reassume his position in the centre. This leaves the coach with a dilemma – does he put Mario Götze on the bench, or do what we all want him to do and play him alongside Özil? With Özil’s Real Madrid team mate Sami Khedira out injured Toni Kroos would hope be in the starting eleven alongside or just behind Bastian Schweinsteiger, but picking both of the playmakers leaves the Nationaltrainer needing to pick one from Thomas Müller, Lukas Podolski and André Schürrle. With both Poldi and Schürrle – and to a lesser extent Götze – favouring the left Müller should be a shoo-in on the right of the midfield, which leaves both Poldi and Schürrle on the bench. The alternative is to create a Schweinsteiger-Götze-Özil or Schweinsteiger-Özil-Götze “spine” with Schürrle and Müller on the flanks – with Kroos being consigned to the bench. Sometimes it is so much easier if you don’t have so much choice; if Khedira was fit it would be even more of a conundrum.
Two members of the last squad – Cacau and İlkay Gündoğan – don’t make it this time around, with Gündoğan joining Rainer Adrion’s Under-21 squad for their upcoming fixtures against San Marino and Belarus.
Up front the decision is a lot easier – looking to the future I’d love to see Mario Gómez start both games, but when you put your common sense cap on there is only one man who can fill the single available position up front when it really matters. When he came on for Gómez against Brazil, Miroslav Klose had a significant impact: he may not have scored any goals, but he was involved in the buildup which led to the opening penalty and part of the intricate end-to-end passing move that was finished by Mario Götze. Gómez on his day is a superb target man and finisher, but he clearly lacks the tactical nouse and movement that Klose brings.
Manuel Neuer (Bayern München, 21 Apps/0 Goals)
Tim Wiese (Werder Bremen, 4/0)
Ron-Robert Zieler (Hannover 96, 0/0)
Holger Badstuber (FC Bayern München, 14/1)
Jérôme Boateng (FC Bayern München, 14/0)
Benedikt Höwedes (FC Schalke 04, 2/0)
Mats Hummels (BV 09 Borussia Dortmund, 8/0)
Philipp Lahm (FC Bayern München, 81/4)
Per Mertesacker (SV Werder Bremen, 75/1)
Marcel Schmelzer (BV 09 Borussia Dortmund, 4/0)
Christian Träsch (VfL Wolfsburg, 8/0)
Sven Bender (BV 09 Borussia Dortmund, 1/0)
Mario Götze (BV 09 Borussia Dortmund, 7/1)
Toni Kroos (FC Bayern München, 19/0)
Thomas Müller (FC Bayern München, 19/7)
Mesut Özil (Real Madrid CF, 26/4)
Lukas Podolski (1. FC Köln, 90/42)
Marco Reus (Borussia Mönchengladbach, 0/0)
Simon Rolfes (Bayer 04 Leverkusen, 23/1)
André Schürrle (Bayer 04 Leverkusen, 6/3)
Bastian Schweinsteiger (FC Bayern München, 88/22)
Mario Gómez (FC Bayern München, 47/19)
Miroslav Klose (SS Lazio, 110/61)
I have pencilled in my starting XI for the Austria game; I will do the same for the match in Poland next week, but would like hope that a number of the other squad members will get a start, particularly Benedikt Höwedes and Marco Reus, who has looked particularly good for Mönchengladbach this season.
Neuer – Badstuber, Hummels, Mertesacker, Lahm – Schweinsteiger, Götze – Schürrle, Özil, Müller – Klose
Germany’s recent record against both Austria and Poland is excellent, and barring catastrophe Jogi Löw’s side should win both games comfortably. A win against Austria will maintain the Nationalmannschaft’s one hundred percent in their Euro 2012 qualifying group, and will also ensure that they are the first team – with the exception of the two host nations – to qualify for the finals in Poland and the Ukraine next year. Germany have won their last six games against the Austrians as part of a seven-game unbeaten run that stretches back to 1986, with the last of these victories coming earlier this year in Vienna when two Mario Gómez strikes secured a 2-1 win.
Against Poland the record is even better: no German national side has ever been beaten by the Poles in the sixteen games played between the two sides, a record that goes back to the first encounter in 1933. The last meeting took place in the first phase of the 2008 European Championship finals in Klagenfurt, with Polish-born Lukas Podolski scoring both goals in an easy 2-0 win. The score was the same when the two teams last met on Polish soil in Zabrze in 1996, with former Nationaltrainer Jürgen Klinsmann and current team general manager Oliver Bierhoff finding the back of the net.
Leading the club count once again are FC Bayern München with eight squad members, followed by BV 09 Borussia Dortmund (4) and Bayer 04 Leverkusen and SV Werder Bremen (2). Seven other clubs contribute one player each, including two from outside Germany. Of the fifteen non-Bayern players in the squad, – have at some time been part of the Bayern setup – Mats Hummels, Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski. This means that a 4-4-2 “FC Bayern” starting eleven could be created:
Neuer – Badstuber, Hummels, Boateng, Lahm – Podolski, Kroos, Schweinsteiger, Müller – Klose, Gómez
I’ll finish off with another little snippet for all of you trivia hounds – one that will be perfect for the local pub quiz. Which Germany player selected for the national squad once played two games for English League Two side Northampton Town? The answer: Ron-Robert Zieler. Remember, you saw it here first!
I will be live on Twitter for the Austria match, which will be shown in the UK on ESPN.