What have we learned from Germany's friendlies?
From a pre-tournament camp fraught with off-field personal issues and devastating injuries to key players, Germany is now on the cusp of their opening World Cup match against Portugal on June 16. Despite a brilliant qualifying campaign -- unbeaten while winning nine -- their 4-4 draw against Sweden spoke loudest to the ever-dour German fan base who then began to wonder where it would all go wrong.
It's typical for DFB support; even Raphael Honigstein jokingly wrote on this site: "What's the German word for 'angst?'"But, the 2-2 draw against Cameroon and the 6-1 demolition of Armenia leading up to the team's flight to Bahia Campo did outline a few positives (as well as some negatives) to take in to Group G competition.
1. There are options in defence
According to Bild, Joachim Loew is looking to line up four centre-backs at the back against Portugal -- Bayern's Jerome Boateng on the right, Schalke's Benedikt Hoewedes on the left and with Arsenal's Per Mertesacker with Dortmund's Mats Hummels in the middle -- due to fitness issues that still lie with Bastian Schweinsteiger. At present, Philipp Lahm might be forced to play in holding midfield.
That back four did well against Armenia, but Armenia is no Portugal. Boateng will have a tough (but probably manageable) day against left-wing superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, depending on how fluid the German midfield manages to be in support.
Germany's second, third and fourth options at right-back, though, are nothing to be scoffed at. Should Schweinsteiger prove himself fit, Loew always has the option of returning Lahm to that position. Should the 25 year-old Boateng fail to impress, there's Dortmund's Kevin Grosskreutz right behind him -- with some notable performances already against Ronaldo's Real Madrid -- as well as Sampdoria's Shkodran Mustafi, the youngster called up in place of the injured Marco Reus, who can play there as well as both centre-back positions.
Should staring centre-backs Hummels and/or Mertesacker make way, Boateng and Hoewedes can be called back to their natural positions along with the aforementioned Mustafi and debutant from Freiburg, Matthias Ginter.
Another new face, Dortmund's Erik Durm, was one of just a few bright spots in the Cameroon draw playing at left-back. And if it were necessary, the ever-present "what can't this guy do" Lahm also shone brightly there in 2006.
While this all may seem a bit piecemeal at first glance, it's nice to know that there are capable back-ups in all four defensive positions -- five, if you include Dortmund's Roman Weidenfeller behind Bayern's Manuel Neuer between the posts -- which has not been a luxury that the German national team has lately in international competition.
2. Losing Marco Reus is not the end of the world
What seemed an innocuous tackle in the first half of the Armenia match was the end of a dream for Reus. The Dortmund playmaker was set to wow the world (for those few fans who didn't know about his skill) as a pivotal player in Loew's side. But the German trainer would not call up another attacking midfielder, instead shoring up his defence with Mustafi, saying at Saturday's press conference: "It was not about finding a like-for-like replacement for Marco. We have a great deal of quality in that position behind the forwards."
"We've got enough alternatives with Lukas Podolski, Andre Schuerrle, Mario Goetze, Thomas Mueller, Mesut Ozil, Julian Draxler and Toni Kroos." Loew speaks the truth. If there is one position that Germany can afford to lose a player in, it's attacking midfield. He has so much confidence in that midfield group that he was inclined to only bring one forward to Brazil -- Lazio's Miroslav Klose.
Podolski and Schuerrle have particularly impressed on the left wing in the second half of their respective seasons at Arsenal and Chelsea, Goetze is available to play any of the four advanced positions and Schalke's Draxler can cover anywhere in attacking midfield. Meanwhile Mueller, Germany's hero in 2010, can feature at the "10," the right-wing or as striker. Ozil can also be used in the same configuration -- Loew has been practicing with him up front ahead of facing Portugal.
3. Health in midfield will be crucial
There was encouraging news in the Armenia match as both Lahm and Schweinsteiger made it on the pitch after being out with ankle and knee problems respectively. The Bayern captain would make way for his co-captain with 30 minutes remaining but possibly the best news for Loew and the DFB is that Real Madrid's Sami Khedira looks to be back to full health, featuring in both friendly matches after missing much of his club season -- and looking horrible in the Champions League final.
As things stand now it looks as Loew will choose Khedira and Lahm in the midfield as Schweinsteiger is still unable to play a full 90 minutes, but Bayern's Kroos and Leverkusen's Christoph Kramer are also available there.
It's not as bad as it could have been but it's also not nearly as good as it could be. There are still transition issues from offence to defence. There's no Reus to link it all together. The man they call "Fussballgott," Schweinsteiger, still has a bum knee. Loew's job is also somewhat on the line here.
It's crazy to think -- although some have thought -- that Germany won't make it out of Group G despite all their issues. In the end they're still a very solid team and rightly one of the favourites despite, perhaps, themselves. But I, as have many others, have picked them to make it to the semifinals where they'll lose to Brazil. Will that be enough for Loew to keep his job?