Welcome to Yahoo Sports’ team-by-team 2018 World Cup previews. With less than a week to go until this summer’s tournament, it’s time to get familiar with each of the 32 teams participating in Russia. First up in Group F is Germany.
For more analysis, lineup projections and predictions, head to our World Cup preview hub, bookmark it, and dig in to all 32 team previews, eight group previews, power rankings, features and so much more.
Our writers say: The reigning title holders have the requisite swagger and as deep a squad as any in the 32-team field – even if their best player from 2014, goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, only recently returned following a long injury layoff. No matter. The Cup remains theirs to lose. — Doug McIntyre
(Odds via BetOnline, converted to percentages – and therefore slightly exaggerated)
World Cup appearance: 19th (10 as West Germany)
Best World Cup finish: Champion (1954, 1974, 1990, 2014)
2014 finish: Champion
Qualifying: Topped UEFA Group C ahead of Northern Ireland, Czech Republic
Schedule: Mexico (Sunday, June 17, 11 a.m., FS1), Sweden (Saturday, June 23, 11 a.m., Fox), South Korea (Wednesday, June 27, 10 a.m., Fox/FS1)
Manager: Joachim Low
Captain: Manuel Neuer (G)
Top players: Toni Kroos (M), Mesut Ozil (M), Mats Hummels (D), Jerome Boateng (D), Thomas Muller (F), Joshua Kimmich (D), Neuer, Marc-Andre Ter Stegen (G)
Full 23-man squad
Why they’ll win games: Well … do they do anything other than win games? Excluding a recent friendly loss to Brazil that featured primarily second-stringers, they haven’t lost since Euro 2016. They posted an obscene plus-39 goal differential in 10 qualifying wins. They still have Low, who in his 12th year on the job continues to amplify his case as one of the best international tacticians ever. They still have Kroos and Ozil and Muller and … yeah, you get the point. And perhaps most importantly, any player Low throws in the team knows Die Mannschaft‘s system by heart.
Why they’ll lose games: This might sound a bit hot-takey, but the tippity-top-end talent in this Germany team might not quite measure up to other contenders. How many German players would rank in the top five globally at their respective positions? Definitely Kimmich and Kroos. Probably Hummels. Maybe Ozil. And more on the goalkeeping situation below. But there isn’t comprehensive brilliance throughout the squad – as many will have you believe. The likely left back is a 27-year-old who was relegated from the Bundesliga this year. The likely striker had a somewhat underwhelming club season, is still relatively unproven internationally, and doesn’t fit seamlessly into the system. The starting left-winger might be a PSG backup. The most dynamic wide attacker, Leroy Sane, was cut on roster deadline day.
Look, we’re obviously nit-picking here. Germany is formidable. In all likelihood, it will win its first four games in Russia – at least. But you could make that same statement about three or four other teams. What happens when the Germans meet one of them? Do they have the dynamism? They’ve gone 0-3-1 in four recent friendlies against top-10 foes. That may mean nothing. … It also may mean something.
How they’ll play: Fluidly but mechanically, like 11 intricately programmed, sturdily built robots. More specifically, with Kroos next to a more active or robust player at the base of midfield, Ozil drifting between the lines, and Muller coming in off the right to seek out space. Timo Werner, assuming he starts up top, likes to run the channels. The left-sided attacker, Julian Draxler or Marco Reus, would prefer to interchange with Ozil or drop into midfield.
Projected lineup (4-2-3-1): Manuel Neuer; Joshua Kimmich, Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels, Jonas Hector; Toni Kroos, Sami Khedira; Thomas Muller, Mesut Ozil, Marco Reus; Timo Werner.
Khedira looks to have beaten out Ilkay Gundogan for the second central midfield place next to Kroos. Low seemed to hint that Reus is his preferred starter over Draxler on the left. It’s between those two after Sane was left out of the 23. And there’s a chance they both start the opener if Mesut Ozil doesn’t recover from a minor knee injury in time.
The goalkeeping situation is anything but straightforward, but Low appears to have made a definitive decision. He has tabbed Neuer as his No. 1, even though the Bayern Munich backstop will have gone nine months without appearing in a competitive game when he takes the field against Mexico. Ter Stegen, coming off his best season yet at Barcelona, is the most capable Plan B in the world. But Low is going with his guy.
What makes them unique: Just how much talent do they have? Well, a B-minus team won the Confederations Cup last summer. And the two players who combined for the World Cup-winning goal four years ago, Andre Schurrle and Mario Gotze, didn’t even make the preliminary squad this time around. The Premier League’s young player of the year, Sane, couldn’t make the final squad.
Why to root for them: Because you appreciate and respect ruthless, unabashed dominance.
Why to root against them: Uh, because they’re the reigning champs? Should be pretty self-explanatory.
If you’re going to watch one game … The opener against Mexico looks tasty, and could be one of the best games of the group stage.
Group A: Russia | Saudi Arabia | Egypt | Uruguay
Group B: Portugal | Spain | Morocco | Iran
Group C: France | Australia | Peru | Denmark
Group D: Argentina | Iceland | Croatia | Nigeria
Group E: Brazil | Switzerland | Costa Rica | Serbia
Group F: Germany | Mexico | Sweden | South Korea
Group G: Belgium | Panama | Tunisia | England
Group H: Poland | Senegal | Colombia | Japan
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More World Cup coverage from Yahoo Sports:
• 2018 World Cup preview hub
• Ranking the top 100 players at the World Cup
• FC Yahoo Mixer: The Ronaldo vs. Messi debate
• A tactical guide to the 2018 World Cup
• How Vladimir Putin can use the World Cup to his benefit