There is just over a month until the World Cup begins, and Germany have three warmup matches between now and their opening tournament fixture against Portugal in Salvador’s Arena Fonte Nova on 16th June. Having named his preliminary squad of thirty players, the purpose of the three friendlies against Poland, Armenia and Cameroon must surely be for Nationaltrainer Jogi Löw to find the men in form and whittle the squad down to the final twenty three who will be on the plane to Brazil.
Or so one would think.
For the first friendly against the Poles in Hamburg’s Imtech Arena next week, the coach has not picked eighteen of the thirty, but a curious-looking squad including a number of young, inexperienced players who haven’t even made the first cut. At first this would seem a little bizarre: if the purpose is to whittle the named thirty down to the final twenty three, what is the purpose of fielding a bunch of youngsters straight out of the Under-21s?
Then we look at the date – 13th May, just days before the DFB-Pokal final between FC Bayern München and Borussia Dortmund. With these two clubs providing no fewer than thirteen of the thirty, that leaves just seventeen. Then take away the Arsenal trio of Mesut Özil, Per Mertesacker and Lukas Podolski, all of whom will expect to start for their club in the FA Cup final. That leaves fourteen. That then becomes twelve when we take away the not-yet-fully-fit Sami Khedira and Miroslav Klose, and with Hamburger SV’s Marcell Jansen likely to be involved in the Bundesliga relegation playoff with his club we are left with just eleven of the named thirty.
One has to wonder who decided on this date for what is one of only three warmup games before a major international tournament. The fact that the date of the final of the DFB-Pokal had been known for a long time before just makes the decision even more curious.
The curious placement if this fixture calls the purpose of the entire exercise into question. What happens if one of the inexperienced youngsters not in the thirty produces a world-class display against Poles? Does he make his way to the head of a reserve queue? Does he shunt out one of those in the thirty to make the final twenty three?
Of the eighteen players named in the squad for the Poland game, a round dozen are uncapped – including seven who according to the master plan aren’t going to Brazil. One or more of these seven will take the field in the knowledge that he is not playing for a place in the final squad – or anything, for that matter. What is perhaps even more weird is that because both Manuel Neuer and Roman Weidenfeller will be playing for their clubs the following weekend, the two named goalkeepers include Marc-André ter Stegen – who has nothing to gain bar the credit of a fourth international appearance if picked to play.
The dozen uncapped players in the squad of eighteen include five who have made the final thirty – Shkodran Mustafi, Leon Goretzka, André Hahn, Max Meyer and Kevin Volland, all of whom should be expected to start. The remaining seven provide an interesting mix: there’s a defensive quartet of SC Freiburg’s Christian Günter and Oliver Sorg, Eintracht Frankfurt right-back Sebastian Jung and VfB Stuttgart’s talented if erratic Antonio Rüdiger, while in midfield talented VfL Wolfsburg teenager Maximilian Arnold, Borussia Mönchengladbach’s Christoph Kramer and TSG 1899 Hoffenheim’s Sebastian Rudy stand a chance of making their first senior appearance.
The eighteen named players have just a total of fifty-one caps between them, with the most experienced being Benedikt Höwedes (eighteen caps), Lars Bender (seventeen) and Julian Draxler (ten). Of these three, one of Höwedes or Bender is likely to make his first appearance as national team captain.
It’s the sort of squad one might expect to see in one of those pointless pre-season August internationals – not as part of a build-up to a major international tournament.
Marc-André ter Stegen (Borussia Mönchengladbach, 3/0)
Ron-Robert Zieler (Hannover 96, 2/0)
Matthias Ginter (SC Freiburg, 1/0)
Christian Günter (SC Freiburg, 0/0)
Benedikt Höwedes (FC Schalke 04, 18/1)
Sebastian Jung (Eintracht Frankfurt, 0/0)
Shkodran Mustafi (UC Sampdoria Genoa, 0/0)
Antonio Rüdiger (VfB Stuttgart, 0/0)
Oliver Sorg (SC Freiburg, 0/0)
Maximilian Arnold (VfL Wolfsburg, 0/0)
Lars Bender (Bayer 04 Leverkusen, 17/4)
Julian Draxler (FC Schalke 04, 10/1)
Leon Goretzka (FC Schalke 04, 0/0)
André Hahn (FC Augsburg, 0/0)
Christoph Kramer (Borussia Mönchengladbach, 0/0)
Maximilian Meyer (FC Schalke 04, 0/0)
Sebastian Rudy (TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, 0/0)
Kevin Volland (TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, 0/0)