The arrival of the FIFA World Cup draw brings with it the customary discussion of who’s best to avoid and who’s best to come up against, but it’s safe to say no nation will want to face reigning champions Germany, who look a good bet to go all the way again in Russia.
bundesliga.com lays down 10 reasons why Joachim Löw’s men should be considered favourites to retain their world crown.
1) The Löw factor
Löw has taken Germany to five major tournaments: UEFA EURO 2008, the FIFA World Cup 2010, UEFA EURO 2012, the FIFA World Cup 2014 and UEFA EURO 2016. In every single one of those tournaments, Die Nationalmannschaft have reached at least the semi-finals, winning the World Cup in Brazil in 2014 and finishing runners-up to Spain in 2008. It is not as if Germany have had simple runs to the last four, either. In 2010 Löw’s side knocked out England and Argentina before a semi-final exit to Spain, in 2012 they topped a group containing Portugal, Denmark and the Netherlands, while in 2014 they won a group of death with Portugal, the USA and Ghana. Put it this way: if Löw is your coach, you have a 25 per cent chance of winning the tournament.
Watch: Check out Löw’s achievements in the Bundesliga as a player!
2) They’re the holders
Once Germany do get to the last four, there’s a vast amount of tournament savvy within the nation’s ranks. As the current holders, Die Mannschaft know exactly what it takes to win the tournament, and while no nation has managed to retain the trophy since Brazil in 1962, Germany could conceivably send out eight starters (including Manuel Neuer, Mats Hummels, Jerome Boateng and Thomas Müller, all of whom play together for Bayern Munich at club level) from the 2014 World Cup final for their opening game in Russia. On top of that, Bundesliga clubs – such as Bayern – more often than not reach the latter stages at the top level of continental football, Löw’s likely lads regularly picking up that much-valued big-game know-how and trophy-winning experience.
Watch: Take a trip down memory lane and re-live Germany’s 2014 triumph
3) Tournament know-how
That Löw could send out eight starters from the 2014 final (Toni Kroos, Mesut Özil, Christoph Kramer and Benedikt Höwedes are the other four) underlines the wealth of tournament experience within the German ranks. It’s not just at the top level, either; an experimental ensemble lifted the FIFA Confederations Cup in Russia this past summer, while the juniors won the UEFA European Under-21 Championship. Prevailing at major tournaments is as much about managing situations in tight games as it is playing scintillating football; invariably the side that keeps its cool when the going gets tough comes out on top. With all that tournament expertise – even at youth tournaments – Löw’s unit looks well set: Gary Lineker’s old cliché that football is 22 men running around after a ball and at the end Germany winning has plenty of legs yet.
4) Strength in depth
That experience – Löw taking an experimental squad to the Confederations Cup and the youngsters prevailing at the EUROs this past summer – has translated into unrivalled squad depth. No other nation boasts a wealth of options quite like Germany, who could choose no fewer than four separate starting XIs for the tournament. Alas, the 57-year-old tactician is only allowed to take 23 players – three of whom will be goalkeepers – and selecting a balanced squad from his embarrassment of riches is Löw’s major pre-tournament challenge. For UEFA EURO 2016, he left out Marco Reus, Julian Brandt, Sebastian Rudy and Karim Bellarabi – who will miss out this time around?
5) A testament of youth
Germany’s remarkable squad depth has been supplemented by an injection of fresh legs. From the 2014 World Cup-winning side, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Per Mertesacker, Miroslav Klose and Philipp Lahm have retired, with Joshua Kimmich, Timo Werner, Leon Goretzka, Leroy Sane, Brandt and Niklas Süle among those chomping at the bit to fill their sizeable boots. Combining those youngsters’ eagerness to impress with the aforementioned experienced heads could well be a recipe for another global triumph.
Watch: Get to know Germany’s next golden generation!
6) In fine form
Germany’s all-conquering qualification campaign offered the perfect opportunity to begin mixing youth with experience: Werner, Kimmich, Sane, Brandt and Goretzka all impressed, but reaching the World Cup was far from just an experiment; quite the opposite, in fact. Löw’s troops became only the second-ever side (after Spain in 2010) to win all 10 games of a European qualifying campaign. Quite simply, the four-time winners are in excellent form approaching next summer’s jamboree in Russia.
7) Home soil – sort of
It will not have escaped notice that this World Cup takes place in Europe, traditionally when European teams are at an advantage and South American teams struggle more than expected. In nine out of 10 World Cups played on European soil, a European side has prevailed, with Brazil’s Pele-inspired triumph in Sweden in 1958 the only exception. Three of Germany’s four world titles have come on European soil (Switzerland 1958, West Germany 1974 and Italy 1990), while they have also reached the final twice on their own continent (England 1966, Spain 1982), boding well for Russia 2018.
8) Confederations Cup trump card
Speaking of Russia: Germany’s experience in local conditions at the Confederations Cup could come in very handy indeed during the 2018 tournament. Löw’s side played in three of the stadiums to be used at this summer’s tournament – Sochi, Kazan and St. Petersburg – and since footballers are creatures of habit, a little inside knowledge will be more than welcome. Knowing what to expect in terms of climate, atmosphere and hotels could prove an under-emphasised trump card.
Make no mistake – Germany’s semi-final exit to hosts France at EURO 2016 hurt. Löw and his players made all of the right noises afterwards, but going one step further will very much be on their minds at this tournament. “France played well, but we were better,” said Löw after the 2-0 defeat in Marseille. “We had a little bit more than the French, but perhaps didn’t get the rub of the green.” Die Nationalmannschaft do not intend to leave anything to chance this time around.
10) Penalty lottery?
Finally, there’s that old cliché of never betting against the Germans when it comes to penalties. The four-time winners have come out victorious in their last six shoot-outs at major tournaments (dating back to the 1982 World Cup), so even if you do manage to hold off Löw’s side, you still have to survive a lottery rigged in the Germans’ favour by the weight of history. Good luck.