The gradual build up to this summer’s FIFA World Cup finals begins next week, with South American opposition providing the entertainment in Stuttgart’s Mercedes-Benz-Arena. The opening fixture of 2014 pits Joachim Löw’s side against Chile, a team that has improved markedly in recent years to the point where they are being seen by some as dark horses with a genuine chance of pulling off a surprise in Brazil.
With his squad selection being closely scrutinised since the semi-final exit at Euro 2012, the German Nationaltrainer has largely stuck to his guns, but the combination of injuries to some of the more regular names and light media pressure has see him really throw out an interesting mix this time around. In a squad of nineteen selected ahead of the match against the Chileans, Löw has named no fewer than four new faces – including one who might be unfamiliar to regular Bundesliga-watchers.
The four Neulings: Hamburger SV striker Pierre-Michel Lasogga, SC Freiburg defender Matthias Ginter, FC Augsburg midfielder André Hahn, and the surprise in the pack, UC Sampdoria centre-back Shkodran Mustafi.
There are only two goalkeepers in this nineteen-man Kader with Roman Weidenfeller selected as backup to Manuel Neuer with the out of form René Adler being dropped, and among the nine named defenders Mustafi comes in for the injured Mats Hummels while Ginter and recalled Borussia Dortmund enforcer Kevin Großkreutz replace Benedikt Höwedes and Heiko Westermann.
Despite being part of an SC Freiburg side that has spent much of the season at the wrong end of the Bundesliga table, young Ginter has continued to impress onlookers – in contrast to Mustafi who despite being part of the youth team setup for a number of years is something of an unknown quantity. The Bad Hersfeld-born defender of Albanian descent would be on Hamburg’s youth books before moving to English side Everton in 2009 at the age of seventeen, but would make just one first team appearance for the Merseysiders before moving to Serie A in 2012 on a free transfer. Since then he has flourished, and while he may have slipped under the radar for some of us it was clear that the crafty Maharishi Jogi was keeping a eye out for the promising young centre-back.
Injuries have clearly disrupted the midfield with Marco Reus and Julian Draxler not quite fully fit and Thomas Müller sustaining an injury during FC Bayern’s latest Bundesliga fixture in Hannover, but given the treasure trove at his disposal it has not been too difficult for Löw to present what is still a very powerful group of players. The experienced Bastian Schweinsteiger returns after a long lay-off through injury and fellow cap-centurion Lukas Podolski is one of three Arsenal players in the squad, and with both Sami Khedira and Sven Bender already on the injury list there should be a decent opportunity for Sidney Sam to make a start.
André Hahn is something of a surprise selection, but is clearly a man in form as part of an unfashionable FC Augsburg side that have defied the critics to give themselves a chance of qualifying for Europe next season. In contrast, the squad’s other André, Chelsea’s bench-warmer Schürrle, keeps his place in spite of having few chances to impress for the Blues this season.
Up front, fit-again veteran Miroslav Klose makes a return, with the out of form Max Kruse dropped in place of new boy Lasogga, who has impressed in the Bundesliga despite being part of a dreadfully poor Hamburg side. With the likes of TSG 1899 Hoffenheim’s Kevin Volland also in fine form, it will be a chance for the Lasogga to steal a march on his rivals in booking a a ticket on the plane to Brazil – something that is looking increasingly likely with Mario Gómez only recently returning to first-team football for Fiorentina after a injury break.
Manuel Neuer (FC Bayern München, 44/0)
Roman Weidenfeller (BV 09 Borussia Dortmund, 1/0)
Jérôme Boateng (FC Bayern München, 36/0)
Matthias Ginter (SC Freiburg, 0/0)
Kevin Großkreutz (BV 09 Borussia Dortmund, 3/0)
Marcell Jansen (Hamburger SV, 44/3)
Philipp Lahm (FC Bayern München, 104/5)
Per Mertesacker (Arsenal FC, 95/4)
Shkodran Mustafi (UC Sampdoria Genoa, 0/0)
Marcel Schmelzer (BV 09 Borussia Dortmund, 15/0)
Lars Bender (Bayer 04 Leverkusen, 17/4)
Mario Götze (FC Bayern München, 26/6)
André Hahn (FC Augsburg, 0/0)
Toni Kroos (FC Bayern München, 41/5)
Mesut Özil (Real Madrid CF, 52/17)
Lukas Podolski (Arsenal FC, 111/46)
Sidney Sam (Bayer 04 Leverkusen, 5/0)
André Schürrle (Chelsea FC, 30/11)
Bastian Schweinsteiger (FC Bayern München, 100/23)
Miroslav Klose (SS Lazio, 130/68)
Pierre-Michel Lasogga (Hamburger SV, 0/0)