Spotlight on the main contenders: Germany
Countdown to South Africa: 94 days to go
Tuesday 09 March 2010
There is tension in the German camp, as was highlighted when Lukas Podolski responded aggressively to a critical off-camera comment by a TV reporter after last week's home defeat to Argentina, asking him to 'Bring it on'.
Germany qualified impressively, hastening Guus Hiddink's departure from Moscow with home and away wins against Russia, but the concerns highlighted by England's victory in Berlin last season were evident even before last week. Negotiations over Joachim Löw's contract renewal broke down prior to the match. It now seems the coach's future will be decided after South Africa, which is hardly a vote of confidence.
Then came the match in which Germany were largely outplayed and rarely threatened. The main selection issue is in goal. Before the match René Adler was told by goalkeeping coach Andreas Köpke that the jersey was "his to lose"; he promptly did his best to do just that, being embarrassed by Gonzalo Higuain's goal and making other errors.
In attack, concerns remain over the lack of credible alternatives to Miroslav Klose and Podolski. Other issues are the capacity of young star Mesut Ozil to step up in time for the summer – the 21-year-old Werder Bremen midfielder has scored only 7 League goals this season – and the form of Michael Ballack, whose role Löw had to defend last week.
Before the match Löw said: "We are on target." Afterwards he said: "We have got to make improvements in every part of the team." Nevertheless, such is Germany's tournament pedigree it would be unwise to write them off.
World Ranking: 5
World Cup Group: D (with Australia, Serbia & Ghana)
When might they meet England? Second round
Odds: 14/1 (BetFred)
Pedigree: Winners 1954, 1974, 1990
Last five results: Azerbaijan W 4-0 (h), Russia W 1-0 (a), Finland D 1-1 (h), Ivory Coast D 2-2 (h), Argentina L 1-0 (h)
Upcoming fixtures: Malta (h, 13 May), Hungary (a, 29 May), Bosnia-Herzegovina (h, 2 June).
Key player: Michael Ballack
One to watch: Mesut Ozil
Fan file: Noted for vociferous chanting, flag-waving and painted faces.
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