Home to over 82m people, Germany
The Bundesliga is Germany’s top flight league and is one of the highest-rated in the world. The Bundesliga was not founded until 1963, meaning Germany won the 1954 World Cup without the aid of a professional league. For 2008/09, the average attendance in the Bundesliga was 42 749 – second only to the Premier League – with the German match-goers seeing many of the national team’s stars often, as only Michael Ballack, the captain, Robert Huth and Thomas Hitzlsperger being regular squad members who ply their trade outside their home country. Bayern Munich are Germany’s most successful team, with 21 titles and 14 cups, including four European Cups.
Germany qualified with ease from a group containing Russia, Finland, Wales, Azerbaijan and Lichtenstein. From their 10 games, Joachim Low’s side won eight and drew two – with both stalemates coming against Finland. Arguably their most impressive performance in qualifying, however, came away to Guus Hiddink’s Russia. Miroslav Klose gave Germany the lead in the 35th minute and the disciplined Germans held on despite going down to 10 men midway through the second half. The six points taken from Russia proved vital as they finished second to Germany, trailing in Group Four by four points. Germany currently sit sixth in the FIFA World Rankings, and have won the World Cup three times, the last in 1990, finished runners-up a further four times and third three times, the last being as hosts in 2006. They also have three European Championships to their credit, making them arguably the most successful European team in history.
Home games rotate across Germany’s many impressive stadia but usually take place in the capital, Berlin, site of the country’s first home tie with England in 1908, although the excellent stadia in Gelsenkirchen and Munich, home to Schalke 04 and Bayern and 1860 Munich respectively, are amongst the best in the world.
Usually a functional team lacking in flair, this version of Germany can call upon the delightfully skilful Mezut Ozil of Werder Bremen. The 21-year-old midfielder is capable of unlocking the tightest of defences and provides a neat compliment to the more robust Ballack, and Bastian Schweinsteiger. Ozil’s subtlety will be required to feed Klose, Lukas Podolski, Mario Gomez or Stefan Kiessling – four physical, athletic strikers all capable of finding the back of the net regularly, while Ballack’s runs from deep and intelligent use of the ball will be vital to any German success in South Africa. A regular 4-4-2 system used to be the order of the day but lately a more modern 4-2-3-1 has been employed with Ozil asked to support the lone striker. At the other end, the retirement of Oliver Khan, Jens Lehmann falling out of favour and the tragic death of Robert Enke has led to the introduction of a slew of new goalkeepers. First choice for the tournament is likely to be Rene Adler of Bayer Leverkusen, but Tim Wiese of Werder Bremen and Manuel Neuer of Schalke 04 are still in contention for the No 1 shirt.
Low replaced Jurgen Klinsmann as Head Coach after the 2006 World Cup, having assisted the former Tottenham Hotspur striker. Before taking up his role with the national team, Low managed in Austria with FC Tirol Innsbruck and Austria Wien, Turkey with Adanaspor and Fenerbahce and Germany with Stuttgart and Karlsruher, winning the Austrian championship with Tirol in 2002 and reaching the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1998 with Stuttgart. He guided Germany to the final of Euro 2008, losing 1-0 to Spain after defeating the highly-regarded Portuguese 3-2 in the semi-finals but his contract expires after the tournament and a new one has yet to be agreed. Prior to every World Cup in recent times, Germany have had aspersions cast on their chances of going into the tournament’s latter stages and again, Germany do not look on par with the other favourites, Spain and Brazil, but their incredible mental fortitude and astute coaching from Low could take them far.