p1cfddpmnr1hu713n21h891dmg6keg.jpg

Germany: The defending champions return with a better squad than 2014

Defending champions Germany can add themselves to an illustrious list should they win football’s most prestigious tournament for the second time running.

Just Italy in the 1930s and Brazil over 1958-1962 have retained the golden trophy, with another German triumph set to move them onto five world titles - level with Brazil atop the global standings.

A competition in Russia brings a fresh challenge but three of Germany’s four wins have come on European soil and there's no doubt Joachim Low’s side are one of the best placed nations to achieve glory this summer.

Germany’s World Cup squad

Goalkeepers: Neuer, Ter Stegen, Trapp

Defenders: Boateng, Ginter, Hector, Hummels, Kimmich, Plattenhardt, Rudiger, Sule

Midfielders: Brandt, Draxler, Goretzka, Gundogan, Khedira, Kroos, Ozil, Rudy

Forwards: M Gomez, Muller, Reus, Werner

p1cem5u9u01mf1b9hfjfdtf6n8l.jpg

How did they qualify?

The only team to maintain a 100 per cent win rate in European qualification, Germany romped to their 10th successive World Cup finals. The preliminary round often seems like a formality for the DFB-Team, and it was indeed that this time.

Their closest challengers, Northern Ireland, finished 11 points back, and went down 3-1 and 2-0 to the world champions, who were rarely put under any serious pressure in the 10-game campaign.

Surprisingly, perhaps, Norway were routinely dispatched with a positive nine goal difference over two encounters, while Low’s side racked up the perennial mauling of minnows San Marino to the tune of 8-0 and 7-0, respectively.

Czech Republic put up a little resistance on home soil but eventually lost to a late goal from Mats Hummels.

p1cfnjvkae158vnu0gkrre1sbsf.jpg

Key men

When it comes to key players, the German national team is blessed with exceptional depth. Of course, the likes of Hummels, Toni Kroos, Mesut Ozil and Thomas Muller have the ability to define the path of Germany at the World Cup.

The previous tournament, Euro 2016, answered the question at right back regarding the replacement of Philipp Lahm. His Bayern team-mate Joshua Kimmich proved to be an able successor, impressing in the last-16 win over Slovakia and the quarter-final victory against Italy.

p1ceoptbb5muo1otfmlrftn14r2f.jpg

Given Germany’s paucity of excellent centre forwards, the emergence of Timo Werner in the last calendar year will be a source of great optimism for Low. The 21-year-old sharpshooter from RB Leipzig was rewarded for a sensational Bundesliga campaign at the upstarts from the east, scoring 21 goals in 31 outings.

But Werner hasn’t just earned his Germany call-up through club form alone. He has now managed to earn the trust of the national team coach too.

The former Stuttgart player was trusted with leading the line at the 2017 Confederations Cup, the prelude to this year’s tournament, and scored three goals and assisted another two to take home the Golden Boot.

One to watch - Leon Goretzka

The Confederations Cup last summer provided Low with an outstanding opportunity to test different options. Tactical flexibility is crucial to the German boss: it gives his side a major advantage when compared to chief rivals like Spain and Brazil.

Leon Goretzka, the 23-year-old Schalke midfielder who will join Bayern Munich in the summer, has earned his place at the World Cup after a superb breakthrough tournament.

The Bochum-born kid has stiff competition for a regular starting slot, but he boasts an advantage given his unique qualities.

FBL-WC-2018-GER-PRESSER

Less a player to dominate possession or contribute to the build-up play, Goretzka’s lung-bursting runs from midfield and smart combination play makes him a dangerous weapon to use from deep. For the national team, he has already scored six in 13 appearances and walked away from the Confed Cup with the silver boot, shared with team-mate Lars Stindl.

A key decision to observe from now until the tournament begins will be Low’s call on who starts at left-back for Germany.

Jonas Hector’s shift to central midfield in Koln coupled with Marcel Halstenberg’s long-term injury has opened up an opportunity for someone to make their name in the preparation for the finals. Marvin Plattenhardt is arguably the man in possession of the shirt but Low could go in a number of different directions.

p1cfnjvsvfg1b16ncl9gb2c1b3th.jpg

The manager

It may seem ludicrous to the outside, but Low has faced a battle for acceptance as the national team coach. Low has chopped and changed basic formations across the last four years, but the fundamental principles remain the same: dominate the ball, relentless pursuit of overloads, extra space in the last third and great goals.

During the qualification process, Germany switched often between back-three combinations and the conventional 4-2-3-1. For the first few qualifiers before Mario Gomez’s return at the European Championship in France, Mario Gotze began as Germany’s most advanced striker, performing the commonly-known role ‘false-nine’ which creates space for other attackers to exploit.

Gomez, who scored twice at Euro 2016, racked up the minutes against San Marino and Azerbaijan, before Low agreed with the wider opinion that both Sandro Wagner, formerly of Hoffenheim, and Stindl should be given a chance in attack.

Both performed well, but the emergence of Werner has allowed the Germany boss to adapt his system once again. In the wake of Miroslav Klose and Gomez, the Germans have found a forward in the frame of RB Leipzig’s Werner, who has seven international goals in 10 games since his debut last March.

Northern Ireland v Germany - FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier

World Cup 2018: The top 10 contenders

Potential route to the final

The tournament begins in earnest on June 17 for the holders. Victory in Brazil was inspired by the diligent attention-to-detail in Germany’s quest for the right base, and this time, the DFB Nationalmannschaft will stay around 20-25km from Moscow in the town of Vatutinki.

Low’s team will open their campaign at the imposing Luzhniki Stadium in the Russian capital against Mexico. On June 23, the Germans will head to Sochi, the base of the team’s Confed Cup success, to meet Sweden, who progressed via a playoff against Italy. Four days later, it is South Korea at the Kazan Arena.

The Germans could meet England in either the quarter-final or the final itself, depending on the form of Gareth Southgate’s team. If the Three Lions come second in their group, Germany will be their likely opponents following a clash with Switzerland, Costa Rica or Serbia in the last 16. (Of course, assuming Brazil and Germany both top their respective sections).

p1cem5unn0j1i1agl1d5k1hkj3f9n.jpg

Expert opinion

Stephen Uersfeld, German football correspondent for ESPNFC in Berlin

"Germany are willing to adjust their match plan to the opponent if required and to whatever the squad offers. The 2014 World Cup and the road to it has boosted the confidence, and - other than a shambolic performance versus an aspiring France - the team has looked stable regardless of formations.

"Low has been able to get the best out of his players, and while he trusts a core group, he has been able to integrate rising stars and adjust his system accordingly.

"Goretzka has struggled with injuries throughout the season. He’ll have his difficulties beating the likes of Toni Kroos, Sami Khedira and super Ilkay Gundogan to a place in a holding midfielder role. Yet, his superior qualities in the box might actually get him a bit of playing time.

"Stindl missed out but Werner should be guaranteed a place in the starting formation in most of the games. Can he be the new Klose? Absolutely! And he has more speed."

Odds

Germany are joint-favourites to retain the World Cup. With William Hill they are priced at 9/2* to be outright winners, level with Brazil and just ahead of France and Spain.

If you fancy them to go far but fall at the last hurdle, William Hill are offering 9/4* for Jogi Low’s side to make the final in Moscow on July 15.

Despite their attacking talent, Germans aren’t priced too high in the top scorer bracket, but Timo Werner is available at 14/1* and Thomas Muller at 16/1*.

*Please note that these odds are correct at time of publishing and could be subject to change.

**GiveMeSport brings you this article in collaboration with William Hill

Want more content like this?

Like our GiveMeSport Facebook Page and you will get this directly to you.

Already Subscribed to Facebook, don't ask me again

Follow GiveMeSport on Twitter and you will get this directly to you.

Already Following, don't ask me again

Like our GiveMeSport Page and you will get this directly to you.

Already Subscribed to G+, don't ask me again