Avoiding the protracted selection process before previous tournaments, Nationaltrainer Jogi Löw announced a rump squad of 27 players this morning. After the two upcoming friendly matches against Austria and Saudi Arabia, this will be shaved down to the final 23 who will be on the plane to Russia.
As usual, there were the surprises and shocks, sparking off a series of discussions on social media. While the squad is pretty much as expected, there were some interesting picks as well as some sad but expected omissions.
The Petersen curveball
The biggest story has to be the selection of uncapped SC Freiburg striker Nils Petersen, with FC Bayern München hitman Sandro Wagner missing out. Naturally, the debate first focussed on the two players – and the resulting whys and wherefores.
In what has been a successful Bundesliga-winning season in Munich, Wagner has done little wrong. As backup to Polish first-choice Robert Lewandowski, the former TSG Hoffenheim man has done everything asked of him, and thrown in plenty of commitment to boot.
By the same token, Petersen has done all that has been demanded of him, scoring 15 goals for a Freiburg team that has struggled this season. It is thanks to Petersen that the Schwarzwald outfit were able to retain their top-flight status. Despite his lack of top-level international exposure, there are plenty of positive reasons for his selection.
It is actually worth noting that Petersen actually did pretty well at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, where he netted six times in as many matches. So while he may not have played for the A-Mannschaft, he does have some form in the Nationaltrikot.
Gómez ghosting in
While the initial discussion presented Petersen and Wagner as the either-or, on further analysis I was left thinking that the coach could actually have picked both of them. For while this discussion was going on, many commentators had passed over the fact that Mario Gómez was among the 27 names, almost ghosting his way into the squad. Prior to the Petersen curveball, it had always been a case of either Wagner or the VfB Stuttgart veteran, with Wagner the clear leader based on form and fitness.
I have always liked Gómez, and had always backed his selection for previous tournaments, when others were calling for the opposite. However this time around I would have picked Wagner. This would have nothing to do with ability, for in terms of experience and goal count, Gómez would win every time. His recent form for a resurgent Stuttgart has also been impressive.
The problem lies in Gómez being a major injury risk.
With a record of 31 goals in 73 international outings, the Riedlingen-born striker is by far the most experienced. But his showings at recent major tournaments have not matched this. The big striker would miss out on the triumph in 2014 through injury, and his form at Euro 2016 dropped away dramatically towards the sharp end of the tournament.
The last time Gómez lasted a full 90 minutes was at Euro 2016, in the 3-0 quarter-final win over Slovakia. He was subbed off in the semi-final defeat against France, and since then he has only played five times in 24 matches, being subbed three times and coming off the bench twice. In terms of contribution, just two goals in the qualifiers against Azerbaijan and Norway.
By contrast, Wagner has netted five goals in his eight matches, and has remained fit for as long as I can remember. After Brazil 2014, I slowly learned to trust the Maharishi Jogi. We should trust him again, and hope that Gómez can remain fit during a month of intense competition play.
No place for Ulreich
The injury to Manuel Neuer in the autumn of 2017 had created something of a crisis in Munich, and there were major fears when second-choice Sven Ulreich made a shaky start. However, the story was quickly flipped on its head. Spurred by the confidence shown in him by Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes, the former Stuttgart ‘keeper was nothing short of a revelation, his horrible gaffe in the Champions League semi-final notwithstanding.
For many observers, Ulreich was seen as a decent bet for the World Cup Kader – joining recovering teammate Neuer.
To see his name in the 27 would have been a pleasant surprise (and I am not just speaking as an FC Bayern fan here) but to see him not there is also surprising. More so as two of the picks, Kevin Trapp and Bernd Leno, have not been particularly impressive this season.
Trapp has played his part in a successful campaign for Paris St. Germain, but has never really been a standout contender. Leno is a talented ‘keeper, but continues to remain prone to errors on a regular basis. On league form alone and excluding the Ulreich factor, I would have been tempted to introduce Schalke 04 stopper Ralf Fährmann or Hoffenheim’s Oliver Baumann into the fold. Even Ron-Robert Zieler could claim to have done enough to force himself back into the international reckoning, after an excellent season in Stuttgart with VfB.
Neuer is in the final stages of his recovery, and was never going to be left out. There is no guarantee that he will make a start in Russia, which means that the in-form Marc-André ter Stegen has a good chance of taking the slot between the posts.
It was expected, but there is something sad about not seeing 2014 final hero Mario Götze in the squad. Try as he might, the Dortmund midfielder has never been able to regain his part form. There were hopes for a place in the squad following his playing more first-team football, but his inclusion would have elicited accusations of favoritism against the Nationaltrainer. In the end, the decision was a wise one.
Götze’s omission, as well as that of another recent tournament regular in fellow 2014 winner André Schürrle, means that there is only one representative from Borussia Dortmund in the squad. Hopefully, this remains the case when the final 23 is announced. Yes, that man is Marco Reus – the victim of so much pre-tournament heartbreak in the past.
Having battled from injury for the umpteenth time, the sprightly winger has worked his way into some decent form for BVB, and will hope not to repeat what happened in 2014 and 2016 when his tournament hopes were shattered. A fit Reus will always have a place in the squad, even if he has not pulled on the Nationaltrikot for over two years.
Few surprises elsewhere
Elsewhere, there are few surprises. The defensive unit has a very distinctive Bavarian feel about it, with four FC Bayern players in the group of nine. Marvin Plattenhardt is a solid choice, and Bayer Leverkusen’s Jonathan Tah will be looking to make his first international appearance since the end of 2016. Elsewhere, it is a simple case of as you were. There is no place for 2014 ever-present Benedikt Höwedes, and 1. FC Köln left-back Jonas Hector is the only player in the squad who will be playing second division football next season.
It is much the same story further up the pitch, where debutant Petersen and the returning Reus are in with what has become the consistent mix of established regulars and rising stars. One big miss is the versatile ‘Gladbacher Lars Stindl, the scorer of the winning goal in last year’s Confederations Cup final against Chile.
Unlike in 2014, there are no centurions in the 27, with Thomas Müller leading the way on 90 international caps. Playing in his third World Cup, Müller is one of a highly experienced core alongside Mesut Özil, Toni Kroos, Sami Khedira and striker Gómez.
Who misses out?
The next debate will concern the four names that will not make the squad. Hopefully, this will all come down to the coach’s decision rather than injuries, as was the case in 2014 with Marco Reus. Everybody will have their own opinion on who will not make it to Russia, and I will throw my own quick two Pfennig’s worth here.
Keeping it short: Kevin Trapp, Jonathan Tah, Sebastian Rudy, Julian Brandt.
It was not the sort of thing we want to see less than a month before the start of the World Cup: German internationals Özil and İlkay Gündoğan in cahoots with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in London. A badly miscalculated decision, effectively providing a free propaganda skit in exchange for a couple of signed club shirts.
The DFB were quick to respond with a criticism of both players, but in wanting to play Solomon probably went as far as they needed (and wanted) to go. The statement was slightly strange, in that it suggested that the two players were unwitting participants. If they were indeed victims of their own naivety, what grounds were there for genuine criticism?
While the DFB’s statement is pretty unequivocal as far as Mr. Erdoğan is concerned, it should have been a lot tougher on the players. These guys have armies of agents and advisors, after all.
Özil and Gündoğan are not Turkish. They are German. They are representatives of Germany on the football pitch, not political ambassadors. As such, they should have been advised to decline this invitation. The only thing we can all do now is hope that the DFB give both players a firm rap on the knuckles, draw a line under it, and move on. As for their not being selected for the World Cup squad, there was never going to be any chance of that.
Jogi extends contract
There had been much gossip and brainless tittle-tattle concerning the Nationaltrainer’s next move after the World Cup, with Arsenal cropping up in every other yellow press article. We all knew that this was never going to be Jogi’s thing, but finally we can put this all to rest.
Prior to the announcement of the pre-tournament squad, it was announced that the coach had extended his contract with the DFB until 2022, and the next World Cup in Qatar.
In short, the Maharishi is going nowhere.
Bernd Leno (Bayer 04 Leverkusen, 6/0)
Manuel Neuer (FC Bayern München, 74/0)
Marc-André ter Stegen (FC Barcelona, 19/0)
Kevin Trapp (Paris Saint-Germain, 3/0)
Jérôme Boateng (FC Bayern München, 70/1)
Matthias Ginter (Borussia Mönchengladbach, 17/0)
Jonas Hector (1. FC Köln, 36/3)
Mats Hummels (FC Bayern München, 63/5)
Joshua Kimmich (FC Bayern München, 27/3)
Marvin Plattenhardt (Hertha BSC, 6/0)
Antonio Rüdiger (AS Chelsea FC, 23/1)
Niklas Süle (FC Bayern München, 9/0)
Jonathan Tah (Bayer 04 Leverkusen, 3/0)
Julian Brandt (Bayer 04 Leverkusen), 14/1)
Julian Draxler (Paris Saint-Germain, 42/6)
Mario Gómez (VfB Stuttgart, 73/31)
Leon Goretzka (FC Schalke 04, 14/6)
İlkay Gündoğan (Manchester City, 24/4)
Sami Khedira (Juventus Torino, 73/7)
Toni Kroos (Real Madrid CF, 82/12)
Thomas Müller (FC Bayern München, 90/37)
Mesut Özil (Arsenal FC, 89/22)
Nils Petersen (SC Freiburg, 0/0)
Marco Reus (BV 09 Borussia Dortmund, 29/9)
Sebastian Rudy (FC Bayern München, 24/1)
Leroy Sané (Manchester City, 11/0)
Timo Werner (RB Leipzig, 12/7)