Germany prepare for life without captain Michael Ballack when they face Hungary in Budapest on Saturday in their penultimate friendly before the World Cup.
With Germany bidding for their fourth World Cup title, defender and make-shift captain Philipp Lahm admits there is an air of expectation on Joachim Loew’s side to prove themselves.
After victories in Switzerland in 1954, on home soil in 1974 and in Italy in 1990, there are expectations east of the Rhein that another World Cup trophy awaits in Johannesburg on July 11. While Germany finished runners-up at the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea, third when they hosted the tournament in 2006 and lost to Spain in the Euro 2008 final, they have largely been untested in the two years since Vienna.
They beat Russia home and away to qualify for the World Cup, including a 1-0 win in Moscow last October, but back-to-back home defeats by England in November 2008 and minnows Norway in February 2009 caused concern.
Injuries, tragedies and lack of form
Germany have an uncanny knack of coming into form during major championships, but Loew has suffered a series of set backs in the year leading to South Africa 2010. The tragic suicide of Hanover goal-keeper Robert Enke in November 2009 and injury to Leverkusen’s Rene Adler last month means Loew looks set to rely on third-choice goalkeeper Manuel Neuer in South Africa. There are also concerns up-front with first-choice strikers Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose both failing to impress in the Bundesliga.
Podolski, 24, voted the best young player at the last World Cup, failed to make the grade at Bayern Munich while Klose, 31, has failed to impress this season with just three goals for Bayern having lost his place in the first team to striker Ivica Olic. And with Ballack out, midfielder Thomas Mueller says it is down to the rest of the squad to raise their game to compensate.
“After the loss of Ballack, experienced players like Klose, Schweinsteiger and Lahm must now step up,” said Mueller.
Group stage outlook
Germany may have the pedigree of having won three World Cup titles but Loew’s side will not have an easy ride against Australia, Ghana and Serbia in Group D. Each of their Group D rivals also finished top of their qualifying groups.
Published in the Express Tribune, May 29th, 2010.