With just over a month remaining until the big kick-off in Poland and the Ukraine, the preliminary group of twenty-seven players have been named by Nationaltrainer Jogi Löw.
From this twenty-seven will emerge the final squad of twenty-three: the debate now begins on which four will be left at home, but first there’s the discussion about this first group – which contains a number of surprise additions and, depending on one’s interpretation, some curious omissions.
So first, here’s the lucky Sieben und Zwanzig:
Manuel Neuer (Bayern München, 25 Apps/0 Goals)
Marc-André ter Stegen (Borussia Mönchengladbach, 0/0)
Tim Wiese (Werder Bremen, 6/0)
Ron-Robert Zieler (Hannover 96, 1/0)
Holger Badstuber (FC Bayern München, 19/1)
Jérôme Boateng (FC Bayern München, 20/0)
Benedikt Höwedes (FC Schalke 04, 7/0)
Mats Hummels (BV 09 Borussia Dortmund, 13/0)
Philipp Lahm (FC Bayern München, 85/4)
Per Mertesacker (Arsenal, 79/1)
Marcel Schmelzer (BV 09 Borussia Dortmund, 5/0)
Lars Bender (Bayer 04 Leverkusen, 4/0)
Sven Bender (BV 09 Borussia Dortmund, 1/0)
Julian Draxler (FC Schalke 04, 0/0)
Mario Götze (BV 09 Borussia Dortmund, 12/2)
İlkay Gündoğan (BV 09 Borussia Dortmund, 1/0)
Sami Khedira (Real Madrid CF, 25/1)
Toni Kroos (FC Bayern München, 25/2)
Thomas Müller (FC Bayern München, 26/10)
Mesut Özil (Real Madrid CF, 31/8)
Lukas Podolski (1. FC Köln, 95/43)
Marco Reus (Borussia Mönchengladbach, 4/0)
André Schürrle (Bayer 04 Leverkusen, 12/5)
Bastian Schweinsteiger (FC Bayern München, 90/23)
Cacau (VfB Stuttgart, 22/6)
Mario Gómez (FC Bayern München, 51/21)
Miroslav Klose (SS Lazio, 114/63)
So, it’s a case of pick four from this lot.
The first surprise on the list is the eighteen year-old midfielder Draxler, who much like Thomas Müller prior to the 2010 FIFA World Cup has made an impression on the Bundesliga this season. Some might have thought that the Schalke 04 starlet might have made the team sometime between the Euros and the 2014 FIFA World Cup – his international record extends only to eight caps at Under-18 level and one for the Under-21s – but given the success of integrating younger players in 2010 squad it’s not actually a bad selection.
If Draxler gets onto the plane next month it will be something of a bonus, but if not at would have at least been given an introduction to the national team setup and should have been given a run-out in one of the friendly fixtures against Switzerland or Israel.
Another surprise call-up is İlkay Gündoğan, who for many people didn’t look set to add to his single cap before or during the Euros. As with Draxler, it way well be a simple squad integration exercise: the abundance of midfield talent in this current German side is always going to make things difficult for the Dortmund man to get a place on the bench, let alone a starting spot.
Probably the third surpise – well, for me at least – is the inclusion of Cacau as the backup for Miroslav Klose and Mario Gómez up front. Now don’t get me wrong, Cacau has managed to prove his worth when called upon – the last-minute equaliser in Poland and the consolation effort against France come to mind – but he has hardly had a stellar season for his club side VfB Stuttgart.
There have been better alternatives out there, among them VfL Wolfsburg’s resurgent Patrick Helmes and Bayer 04 Leverkusen’s Stefan Kießling, who appears to have put his recent injury problems behind him. I actually fancied Kießling to make the squad given his previous – albeit fairly limited – international tournament experience on account of his stunning “look at me Jogi, I’m here!” hat-trick in Leverkusen’s final Bundesliga fixture against 1. FC Nürnberg, but clearly the Nationaltrainer has other ideas.
On form and statistics along Cacau’s selection fails to make any sense: the Stuttgart man has only scored eight times in thirty-three appearances this season, compared to Kießling (16 in 34) and Helmes (a stunning 12 in 16). Kießling and Helmes are the fourth and fifth-most prolific German goalscorers in the Bundesliga this season – only behind Gómez, Lukas Podolski and Marco Reus, all of who are in the squad.
The coach could just as easily have selected Mönchengkadbach’s Mike Hanke – who with eight goals finished level with Cacau – but there’s something the Maharishi Jogi clearly knows that all of us critics, bloggers and pundits don’t. Cacau is certainly a good team man, is clearly a boon to the dressing, and might well be willing to teach Mesut Özil the words to the Nationalhymne – but there’s no way he’s in good enough for to mak the final cut for a major international tournament.
But then, maybe it’s just because he plays for Löw’s old club VfB, who would otherwise have no representation in the squad.
Elsewhere, there are few surprises. Both Christian Träsch and Simon Rolfes have finally been discarded, along with Dennis Aogo. Aogo’s omission from a team that is slightly thin on defensive names is something of a surprise, but Marcel Schmelzer’s inclusion is a clear indication of who the coach has pencilled in as the backup at left-back – or even as a starter should skipper Philipp Lahm start out on the right. At least the constant Aogo-Schmelzer debate – for the time being at least – is over.
So, how do we whittle this twenty-seven down to twenty-three?
In Neuer, ter Stegen, and Zieler the Nationalmannschaft have three of the best young goalkeepers in Germany if not in Europe, though one of these – probably Zieler on current form – looks likely to miss out. The third man who will certainly be on the plane is the relative veteran Wiese, though for an older head I would probably have plumped for Dortmund stopper Roman Weidenfeller.
There are just seven defenders in this selection, and more often than not the final twenty-three would contain a similar amount. With Aogo already out of the side, I can see all of these names being on the final shortlist.
Unlike in defence, this is where Jogi Löw has probably too many treasures for his own good. Of the thirteen names, here is where the other three of the unlucky ones are going to come from. First, there are the definites, which should be easy to pick out: FC Bayern’s midfield maestros Schweinsteiger, Kroos and Müller; Real Madrid CF duo Özil and Khedira; the undroppable BVB starlet Götze; Arsenal’s new signing, senior pro and back-in-form Podolski; Mönchengladbach’s dynamic and free-scoring Reus.
This leaves us having to drop three from these five names: the Bender twins, Draxler, Gündoğan and Schürrle.
Schürrle has not been in great form since making the short journey up the Autobahn A3 from Mainz to Leverkusen, but he has been able to produce when called upon in the Schwarz und Weiß – he has to make the shortlist. Which leaves us with four.
Following on from my earlier comments, unless they make a massive impression in the very short time frame between now and the announcement of the final twenty-three, Draxler and Gündoğan are also likely to miss out – which means one of the Benders will be at the finals without his twin. In fact this is likely to be the case anyway, for ever since they have both been picked by Jogi Löw they’ve never been able to make the same starting lineup.
Maybe there is actually only one Bender brother, and we have been duped into believing for all this time that there are actually two?
With little else to fall back on and no other names in the mix, Cacau, Gómez and Klose should all expect to make sure that their passports are in order.
So there we have it, that’s make my take on the selection and the final twenty-three. Might Jogi be thinking the same?