There’s one burning question leading up to the World Cup qualifier in Berlin against Sweden: with skipper Philipp Lahm returning from his one-match suspension, is he going to return to the right or switch out to the left? Will Jérôme Boateng make a swift return to the bench, or will left-back Marcel Schmelzer make way for the returning Spielführer?
Lahm’s return for either Boateng (most likely to be benched) or Schmelzer may not be the only change that will have to be made by Jogi Löw; the slight injury to Sami Khedira in Dublin means that the defensive midfielder is struggling to be fit, meaning that Toni Kroos – who impressed against the Irish – should start alongside FC Bayern München colleague Bastian Schweinsteiger. Elsewhere, I can see no obvious changes unless there are last minute fitness concerns.
After the impressive 6-1 demolition of the Irish the German coach should be confident of securing another three points against the Swedes, who after beating Kazakhstan 2-0 in their opener struggled to a 2-1 win in the Faroe Islands. A German win will see them move clear at the top of the group with a maximum twelve points from their opening four matches, and with a double-header against Kazakhstan to come in the spring of 2012 qualification should be more or less settled for Jogi Löw’s side.
Overall, the record between the two sides is fairly even, with Germany having won fourteen of the thirty-five encounters and Sweden twelve (thirteen including the penalty shootout in 1988) and eight (seven) draws. However since the Second World War Germany have been by far the better side, and since reunification in 1990 they have played the Swedes on five occasions, winning the first four and drawing the most recent encounter, a goalless stalemate in Göteborg in November 2010.
Germany have not lost to the Blågult (“Blue-Yellows”) since 1988 – when they were beaten in a penalty shootout… In Berlin. In outright terms, the Swedes have not beaten the Nationalmannschaft since 1978 when they beat the then World Champions 3-1 in a Stockholm friendly.
The two sides have met ten times in tournament competition, with Germany once again having the upper hand with seven victories against Sweden’s one – the somewhat controversial World Cup semi-final in 1958, when as hosts they would overcome the then World Champions 3-1 with the help of a number of spurious refereeing decisions. The last competitive meeting between the two sides would come in the second phase of the 2006 World Cup in Munich, with Germany dispatching their Scandinavian opponents courtesy of two early Lukas Podolski strikes.
So, my predicted lineup:
Neuer – Lahm (c), Mertesacker, Badstuber, Schmelzer – Schweinsteiger, Kroos – Müller, Özil, Reus – Klose.
The game is being shown on ESPN in the UK… At midnight. Meanwhile, their live match is the altogether more exciting (!) meeting between Belgium and Scotland.