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Those who know this columnist well, will quickly confirm that my taste buds are rather partial to a Thüringer Wurst, washed down with a glass of dunkles Bier.

I suppose it's another way of saying I'm quite fond of most things German. The 1974 World Cup is really to blame for this love affair. As a boy, viewing my first major international football competition from Aberdeen on a black-and-white television, cities like Gelsenkirchen, Dortmund and Munich seemed almost exotic.

Little did I know it, but my fascination with the West German players of the time, Beckenbauer, Müller, Breitner and Netzer, was to fuel an intense interest in German language and culture. It has a powerful hold on me to this day.

Having spent much of June in Germany, observing the Nationalmannschaft at close quarters, I suppose it's high time I shared my thoughts with you, on the progress of the Jürgen Klinsmann's team less than ten months away from the June 9 kick-off in Berlin.

Just to prove that even Germanophiles can be critical however, I'll start with the problem areas.

The central defence needs particular attention, and not just because of the wobbles evident in Wednesday night's 2-2 draw with Holland in Rotterdam: a result incidentally, which greatly flattered a tired German side.

The fact is, Klinsmann doesn't have at his disposal, a single defender with top-notch passing ability. At the FIFA Confederations Cup, in the absence of the vastly experienced Christian Wörns, the manager paired a couple of twenty-year-olds giants, Per Mertesacker and Robert Huth. Alarmingly, eleven goals were conceded in five matches.

Mertesacker looks to me to have more potential than Huth, who though popular with segments of the German supporters, can at times appear very cumbersome. He can be easily exposed, as Arjen Robben demonstrated in the second half on Wednesday.

So, is a blend of youth and experience the answer in the centre of the German rearguard? A Mertesacker-Wörns alliance perhaps? Not on the evidence of what we saw in Rotterdam.

Wörns was culpable at both Dutch goals, yet there's no one better at the moment.

Arne Friedrich and Andreas Hinkel give Klinsmann two respectable options at right back, but on the left hand side it's a different story altogether. Minus Phillip Lahm, out after undergoing cruciate knee surgery, the Germans are struggling. Thomas Hitzlsperger and Bernd Schneider have been tested out in the role with limited success.

In midfield and attack, things are not quite as grave, although Kevin Kuranyi's erratic performances in June represented cause for concern. There's also the question of where Didi Hamann fits in. Appearing in one of Klinsmann's squads for the first time the other night, the Liverpool midfielder did little to counter a growing feeling in German football circles that he's essentially a negative presence.

From the negative to the positive. In captain Michael Ballack, Germany have a truly world class player, a footballing colossus who will have to be in top form next summer if the Germans are to threaten Brazil, Argentina, England and co.

A debate has been raging for years now, as to where Ballack should play. Ought he to be considered a deep-lying playmaker, organising everyone and occasionally going forward, or is he more effective when playing more consistently off the front two? We got a taste of the latter approach in Rotterdam, and it had the effect of awaking one or two of his dilatory teammates.

Another positive for me (a negative to some) is Klinsmann's rotation policy as regards goalkeepers. Including the Holland match, Oliver Kahn and Jens Lehmann will get three games each between now and Christmas. Timo Hildebrand will be the permanent number two during this period.

Fair enough, most of us expect Kahn to be first choice next summer, but what if an injury strikes the Bayern Munich man early in next year's competition? It surely makes sense to have quality in reserve, with international as well as club experience.

While Kahn is nearing the end of a distinguished career, Lukas Podolski and Bastian Schweinsteiger are just getting started. German fans have taken 'Poldi' and 'Basti' to their hearts, and both are a delight to watch.

A player can come on leaps and bounds in his early twenties, and the hope in Germany is that these two young guns can help propel the team to a higher level.

A final word about Klinsmann himself. There has been a lot of rubbish written about his decision to remain based in California, and travel to Germany for short trips twice a month.

Lest we forget, Greece won Euro 2004 with a manager who lived far away - in Germany!

If the Germans fail to make an impression at the World Cup, it won't have anything to do with Klinsmann's choice of residence.

With that, I'm off to lunch. It's Kasseler today!

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