Ironing out the creases

With just four days to go before Germany’s next World Cup warm-up game against Cameroon in Mönchengladbach and five days before the announcement of the final squad of twenty-three who will be flying out to Brazil, things are certainly hotting up at the Nationalmannschaft’s training ground in the South Tyrol.

Having missed the opening training sessions Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira would make an appearance, while both skipper Philipp Lahm and Manuel Neuer continue to recuperate. Veteran striker Miroslav Klose meanwhile is also fighting to work back to match fitness after an injury-affected season in Serie A. The return of the successful defensive midfield partnership of Schweinsteiger and Khedira is probably the most encouraging news so far, in what has been a frustrating few weeks for Nationaltrainer Joachim Löw.

Both Lahm and Neuer are expected to be fit in time for the opening tournament fixture against Portugal, and their presence is going to be crucial for a German team that remains in flux. It is undecided where the skipper will actually play in Brazil – though this question ultimately rests on the fitness of others – but arguably the most important person in this entire equation is ‘keeper Neuer. In Roman Weidenfeller and Ron-Robert Zieler the FC Bayern München Torhüter has two more than able replacements, but since his taking charge of the number one shirt in 2010 Neuer has continued to be the reliable platform for a side that has often struggled defensively.

Probably the story of the day though has to be that involving Schalke 04 duo Benedikt Höwedes and Julian Draxler, both of who were involved in a car accident during a promotional photoshoot for national team sponsors Mercedes-Benz with Formula 1 star Nico Rosberg and young German touring car driver Pascal Wehrlein. The players were passengers in Wehrlein’s vehicle when he was forced to make a sudden movement to avoid a collision, resulting in two people – a track marshal and a spectator – being hit. According to a Bild reporter on the scene a sixty-three year old man was admitted to hospital with head injuries, while the marshal was lightly injured. The players and driver Wehrlein, meanwhile, were left shaken but uninjured.

I can understand the need for these promotions – footballers are brand ambassadors, after all – but one naturally has to ask why this has to take place during a crucial pre-tournament training period.

Moving towards the selection of the final twenty-three from the remaining twenty-six, the young fringe players have continued to impress in training. Borussia Mönchengladbach’s Christoph Kramer stands a good chance of making a start on his home ground against Cameroon – highly possible with Schweinsteiger and Khedira likely to sit things out as a precautionary measure – while young uncapped Borussia Dortmund left-back Erik Durm will be in direct competition with club team mate Marcel Schmelzer.

The speculation will no doubt continue until we see those final twenty-three names, but should everyone achieve the desired fitness level we are unlikely to see any massive surprises from the coach, who is unlikely to deviate from his plan and the core group of players he believes are best to achieve it. In the best case scenario, the players likely to miss cut are Shkodran Mustafi, Durm and one of Kramer and Matthias Ginter; Mustafi as a specialist centre-back just has too much competition, Durm is unlikely to supplant Schmelzer, while it is hard to separate Kramer and Ginter. While Kramer has looked more of a natural replacement for the injured Lars Bender, Ginter offers far more versatility both as a central defender and defensive midfielder.

For what it’s worth and to throw my own two Pfennigs in, I’d go with Kramer as the team is less likely to need another centre-back than a specialist back-up defensive midfielder. Meanwhile at left-back I’d be tempted to take a chance on Durm, rather than Schmelzer who has never really impressed me in the Nationaltrikot. Hopefully, Sunday’s game should settle these remaining issues.

The next few days are going to be interesting.

Ironing out the creases

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