It feels slightly at odds with the character of the German team, but at Wembley tonight they will hand a first cap to a 33-year-old, and almost everyone is delighted for him. Roman Weidenfeller, just starting his 12th season at Borussia Dortmund, will make his first appearance for the national team. He will try to build a case for his inclusion in the squad for next summer’s World Cup, having earned the right with years of consistent excellence – and two Bundesliga titles – for his club.
In that sense, Weidenfeller’s selection, given the resting of unambiguous first-choice Manuel Neuer, should be no surprise. England, certainly, would be rather keen on having the option to call in an experienced, hungry, two-time champion goalkeeper tonight.
Germany, though, have been so relentless in the last few years in their promotion of generation after generation of brilliant new youngsters that this almost feels like a step in the opposite direction. Weidenfeller is six years older than Neuer, who has been sent back to Bayern Munich to rest, his position still intact. Weidenfeller is five years older than Rene Adler, ahead of whom he has been chosen, although the Hamburg keeper already has 12 caps himself.
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The German coach, Joachim Löw, does have the luxury of a far broader choice in goal than Roy Hodgson, it must be said. Fifteen of the Bundesliga’s 18 first-choice goalkeepers are German, and this squad does not even include Borussia Mönchengladbach’s brilliant young Marc-Andre Ter Stegen, thought to be the likely replacement for Victor Valdes at Barcelona next season. Ter Stegen will play for the Under-21s instead this evening.
Löw did acknowledge the strength of his options in goal. “The truth is we were not exactly looking for goalkeepers as we have goalkeepers aplenty,” the head coach said at the pre-match press conference. “Manuel Neuer is definitely our No 1 keeper, Rene Adler is coming back from injury and played a vital part in our victories over Russia and France, so we know his worth.
“I think Roman just deserves his place in the squad after all those fantastic league performances for Dortmund. With a World Cup coming up next year we’ve got to be prepared and play several alternatives, too. I think Roman’s made a fantastic impression both in training and in the League. He is a mature personality. He displays composure, is cool, calm and collected, and his goalkeeping abilities are beyond any doubt.”
Löw is far too canny to make any promises about who will be the alternatives to Neuer in Brazil but after so long in the Borussia Dortmund team – only Sebastian Kehl, injury-plagued in recent seasons, has been there longer – Weidenfeller, captain in Kehl’s absence, deserves his chance now.
“May 2014 is a long time away so I won’t be tempted into making a final decision about whether or not he will be in the World Cup squad,” Löw said. “But the thing is, he really deserves this call-up. I have always wanted to check him out and see how he fares in training, see what makes him tick. His training is excellent and as a man, as a personality, I have no concerns about him being a valuable addition to the squad. He has assumed the role of a leading player for Dortmund and he could do the same thing for Germany.”
Neuer and Philipp Lahm have been sent back to Bayern to train, and with Bayern facing Dortmund on Saturday afternoon, and Weidenfeller, Marco Reus, Sven Bender and Marcel Schmelzer all set to start tonight, Löw was asked whether this might be interpreted as being detrimental to Dortmund. He scorned the notion – “ask all the players – they all want to play” – and Weidenfeller, unsurprisingly, is loving his time with the squad.
“Just being called up made so much come true for me,” he said yesterday. “I’ve been accepted really well and feel really good here. I wanted to experience what it’s like to be within this group and smell the national team air, and that’s what I’m experiencing now. This already means a lot to me, and we’ll just have to see what else comes.
“I feel I’m getting more secure by the day. We train at a high level with the national team and I like training at a high level. Everybody has to prove themselves every single day here and that increases your quality even further. I wouldn’t say I was excited, I was more curious. I’m really enjoying it. I’ve not received any signal yet from the coach, so I’ll just wait and see what happens.”
Weidenfeller is not the only change being made by Löw, as he attempts to find the right balance and perfect his squad, four days after a 1-1 draw with Italy in Milan. Although Lahm, Neuer and Mesut Özil are rested, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Ilkay Gundogan and Sami Khedira are all injured, Löw scorned any suggestion that he was taking the game insufficiently seriously.
“It was clear for me that I’d use these two matches against Italy and England to try out players in key positions, and what better test for these players than to play in front of a partisan English crowd of 80,000 people spurring their team on? It was clear to me that I needed to experiment a bit and send home some of the players who are firmly established. It’s a deliberate acid test for these up-and-coming players, but we’re not fielding a B team out of any lack of respect.”
Net gains: Keepers compared
In the last round of league fixtures, 15 of the 18 Bundesliga clubs started with a German goalkeeper while just three of the 20 Premier League clubs used an English one:
Bernd Leno (B Leverkusen)
Manuel Neuer (B Munich)
Roman Weidenfeller (Borussia Dortmund)
Marc-Andre Ter Stergen (Borussia Mönchengladbach)
Daniel Davari (E Braunschweig)
Kevin Trapp (E Frankfurt)
Oliver Baumann (Freiburg)
Rene Adler (Hamburg)
Ron-Robert Zieler (Hannover)
Thomas Kraft (Hertha Berlin)
Heinz Müller (Mainz)
Raphael Schafer (Nurnberg)
Timo Hildebrand (Schalke)
Sven Ulreich (Stuttgart)
Sebastian Mielitz (Werder Bremen)
Joe Hart (Manchester City)
John Ruddy (Norwich City)
Steve Harper (Hull City)
Three to watch: Some of the exciting young players that could terrorise England at Wembley
Sven Bender, 24
With Sami Khedira a doubt for the World Cup, there is a gap in the German midfield, so Joachim Löw is turning to Sven Bender. The clever, muscular assertive Borussia Dortmund midfielder is preferred to his brother Lars, who plays in a similar style for Bayer Leverkusen.
Julian Draxler, 20
Yet another quick, smart, sharp technical midfielder. Draxler’s performances for Schalke in the Bundesliga and the Champions League have forced him into a squad containing Mesut Özil, Mario Götze and the rest. He has a change of pace to match them and could do damage tonight.
Max Kruse, 25
Miroslav Klose’s injury means Germany lack a specialist centre-forward. Löw is in no rush to pick Leverkusen’s Stefan Kiessling, so Kruse is next in line. He is slippery, mobile and deadly in front of goal. A spell at Freiburg earned him a move to Borussia Mönchengladbach.