Today sees Germany’s final warm-up match before they depart for Brazil, and as the tournament draws ever nearer everyone will be looking for a decent farewell from Jogi’s Jungs against Armenia in Mainz. While the game should not be particularly testing, it will be a good opportunity for some of those players who did not feature against Cameroon on Sunday to get a little game time.
In my opening video blog earlier this week I stated that beyond being yet another practice game for fine-tuning I couldn’t see much of a contest between Jogi Löw’s side and tonight’s opposition, and I will stand by that assessment. The Nationaltrainer however begs to differ, and believes that the opposition will provide good preparation because they play the same sort of counter-attacking game as Portugal. He is of course missing one thing: Armenia is simply not as good as Portugal – not by a country mile.
Anyway, let’s forget about that and talk a little about the players who are likely to feature.
First, ‘keeper Manuel Neuer still has a little work to do on his shoulder, and will miss out with Roman Weidenfeller getting another start between the sticks. We are told that Neuer will be fit in time for the Portugal game, and we can only assume that Dr. Hans Müller-Wohlfahrt and his team are on the case. Neuer would share the good news a few days ago, so there’s no reason to think he won’t be ready. Although Weidenfeller will start, I am also hoping that third ‘keeper Ron-Robert Zieler will also get a chance to warm his gloves against the Armenians.
The good news is that skipper Philipp Lahm and defensive midfield general Bastian Schweinsteiger are both on tonight’s starting list, and it will be interesting to see how they fare. With Sami Khedira still probably needing a little work, we might see a start for Christoph Kramer. Given the problems experienced by Khedira and Schweinsteiger it would be a good idea for the coach to play with as many combinations as possible in the defensive midfield just in case his hand is forced.
Further up the field it’s a case of take your pick from the jewellery cabinet. The only issue appears to be with Mesut Özil, who after his poor performance against Cameroon has got the full backing of the coach. I will assume here that Özil will start, but it might just be a good idea to give him some time in the second half and start with Mario Götze in the playmaker’s role. Out on the flanks, there will certainly be some juggling between the creative and more direct approach – but as I also said in my vlog a positive outcome will not really offer any tangible proof that any given system will work against the Portuguese.
Up front we will no doubt see some false nineing, but I do expect Miroslav Klose to make his first start since March. should this be the case, he will yet again have an opportunity to break Gerd Müller’s goalscoring record. Having announced his decision to retire next year, it would be an opportune moment to claim the record and then take that form to Brazil where he just needs one more goal to equal Brazilian Ronaldo’s all-time World Cup mark.
So let’s have a look at tonight’s opposition. Located in the South Caucasus and bordering Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey and Iran, Armenia is one of those countries who have never really threatened the international footballing establishment since their arrival on the scene following the break-up of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. They have always been one of those teams not good enough really threaten the established order but not bad enough to be classed as one of the whipping boys.
Armenia’s last qualifying campaign would see them in a group with Italy, Denmark, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Malta, and would see them produce a string of curious results. While at home they would defeat Bulgaria and lose their other four matches including the meeting with group minnows Malta, away from home they would be far more productive. Their one defeat on the road would come in Bulgaria, and would twice take the lead against Italy before drawing 2-2. They would win in both Malta and the Czech Republic, but perhaps their most outstanding result would be a 4-0 drubbing of Denmark in Copenhagen. There are very few stars in the Armenian team, but German viewers will be familiar with one of them – Borussia Dortmund’s nimble attacking midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
Germany have had two previous meetings with Armenia, both of which would come in the qualifying group stages for the 1998 World Cup in France. The game in the Armenian capital Yerevan would see a convincing 5-1 win for the Nationalmannschaft with goals from Thomas Häßler (2), Jürgen Klinsmann, Fredi Bobic and Stefan Kuntz, while in the return meeting in Dortmund Bert Vogts’ side would leave it late before registering a 4-0 with win Klinsmann (2), Häßer and Ulf Kirsten all finding the back of the net in the space of twenty minutes.
A similar scoreline in Mainz’s Coface Arena – hosting its first full international – will certainly provide a confidence boost before the team head off to South America. These final ninety minutes on home soil against middleweight opponents in front of a friendly audience won’t tell us any more about the team or the tactics that are likely to employed in the sticky heat and humidity of Brazil, but what we need now is a good result – and more crucially a convincing team performance – to put a smile on a few faces.