Hamburg, May 29 : Three-time world champions Germany impressed many at the 2006 World Cup with a young team. Now that group of players who finished third is joined by a new haul of talents and veteran leaders to make Germany one of the favourites for South Africa 2010.
Eleven members of the 2006 squad were playing their first World Cup and seven of them in their first big international tournament as Germany were clearly in a transition phase.
Of those players, six of them will be playing a leading role for Germany at South Africa 2010 - including Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Lukas Podolski, who were all either 19 or 20 years when they played for Germany at the 2004 European Championship.
That trio has graduated into leadership positions for Joachim Loew's 2010 squad and their experience will be sorely needed following the withdrawal of captain Michael Ballack through injury.
But Loew, who took Germany to the 2008 European Championship final in his first big tournament since his promotion from Juergen Klinsmann's assistant in 2006, still has plenty of even younger talent he has spent the last two years working into his line-up.
Germany won the 2009 U21 European Championship and a number of those players have already become fixtures in the senior squad, including defender Andreas Beck, midfielders Sami Khedira, Marko Marin and Mesut Ozil and keeper Manuel Neuer.
That group helped Germany breeze through their World Cup European qualification Group 4 with 26 of a possible 30 points without a defeat to finish ahead of Euro 2008 semi-finalists Russia and Finland.
Loew has had to see some of his players struggle with their form late in the club season. But it doesn't concern him that much.
"I think back to Schweinsteiger in 2006 and Podolski in 2008 who were not in their best form going into the tournament, yet both played well. It must be our goal to get all those players with problems back into form as quickly as possible and we have already proved we can do that," Loew told Bild recently.
Still, Loew had some issues to resolve before the World Cup preparations could begin in earnest in May.
Who will be his goalkeeper? After veteran leaders such as Bodo Illgner, Andreas Koepke, Oliver Kahn and Jens Lehmann, Loew settled on Bayer Leverkusen keeper Rene Adler but the 25-year-old had to pull out through injury.
Now his number one keeper will be either Schalke's 24-year-old Manuel Neuer (2 caps), 28-year-old Tim Wiese (2) of Werder Bremen or Hans-Joerg Butt of Bayern Munich.
What will Loew do with his out-of-form strikers? Both Klose and Podolski struggled all season in the Bundesliga and their poor form led to calls for Brazilian-born Cacau to be added to the side or even bringing back into the team the banished Kevin Kuranyi.
There is also Bayern Munich shooting star Thomas Mueller as well as Mario Gomez, who also struggled at times during the season with Bayern, not to mention Leverkusen's Stefan Kiessling.
Still those are concerns Loew has plenty of time to resolve.
The coach: After a playing career in which he earned four under-21 caps and coaching jobs in the Bundesliga, Turkey and Austria, Joachim Loew was appointed assistant to Juergen Klinsmann before the 2006 World Cup. He was the natural successor as head coach after Klinsmann stepped down and led Germany to the Euro 2008 final, where they lost 1-0 to Spain. Less charismatic than Klinsmann, Loew, 50, nevertheless shares the former coach's philosophy of taking the game to the opponents. A tactically astute, thoughtful and analytical coach, he is a well-liked figure who is nonetheless not shy of taking tough decisions.
The star: Following the withdrawal of Michael Ballack through injury, more responsibility has been placed on the shoulders of Bayern Munich's Bastian Schweinsteiger.
At 25, Schweinsteiger is now the oldest midfielder in Loew's young squad for South Africa, and with 73 caps the most experienced international after striker Miroslav Klose.
After a season in which he has matured in a central role with Bayern Munich, Schweinsteiger will now be expected to take on Ballack's leadership role even if the captain's armband goes elsewhere.(DPA)
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