src=”images/articles/klose10062010.jpg” style=”float: left; height: 230px;”/>If a week is a long time in politics, then four years is an eternity in football. By this point in 2006, the World Cup had already kicked-off, courtesy of a thrilling victory for Germany over Costa Rica and soon, the country was swept up in a feeling of unity and euphoria rarely seen in that part of central Europe. Jurgen Klinsmann’s side made it acceptable for Germans to be proud of being German again, after a recent history of nationalist pride spilling over into ugly politics. Now led by Joachim Low, nearly 6000 miles from Berlin in Durban, Germany will not reach such lofty off-the-field successes this time. However on it, they could match the third-place finish achieved on the back of inspirational coaching, a buoyant partisan crowd and the goals of Miroslav Klose.
Klose will be as vital to Germany’s cause during this World Cup as he was the last, but goes into the tournament in vastly different form. At the end of the 2005/06 Bundesliga season, Klose had bagged a stunning 25 league goals in 26 appearances, with six more coming in other competitions to bring his tally to 31. He continued that form into the opening game, where a brace after Philipp Lahm’s memorable opener cancelled out Paulo Wanchope’s equaliser. In 2009/10 however, Klose managed just six goals all season – three in the league, two in Germany’s various cup competitions and just one in the Champions League as his Bayern Munich side reached the final. From over 30 goals four years ago, to just half a dozen in the run-up to this year’s competition is a swing of immense proportions, but as the goals have dried up, Klose’s importance to Die Mannschaft has not responded in kind. If anything, given Low’s change to a lone striker system from Klinsmann’s 4-4-2, Klose has become more important to the national team and to his credit, has rarely let his country down. His 48 goals in 96 games is a sterling ratio, but for Germany to progress to the latter stages, Klose will have to rediscover the form of 2006 – or even 2008, when he scored 21 goals for his club and two crucial goals in the European Championships as Germany reached the final.
Before seriously discussing what it would take to have a German presence at the business end of the World Cup, Low has to negotiate a tricky group – much more difficult than that of 2006 and arguably the most troublesome of 2010. Australia, Ghana and Serbia could all spring a surprise on the Germans and reach the quarter-finals and more worryingly for Low, each is more than capable of taking points from Germany. Finishing top of Group D would mean facing the runner-up of Group C – likely to be Slovenia or the United States, both potentially problematic but on paper, a more relaxing ask than England, the favourites to top Group C and meet the second-place team from Germany’s group. Avoiding Fabio Capello’s England means taking at least seven points from the three group games, and with Australia, Ghana and Serbia likely to take points from each other, a three-game German unbeaten run puts them comfortably into the next round. In a tight group, Germany are the clear favourites and rightly so, but a slow start would see them dragged into a dogfight from which they may not escape. Dropping points against Australia would test that stereotypical German resolve and without the home support of 2006 to spur them on, this year’s German squad would have to dig deeper than those from four years prior.
The current squad holds a number of names from the 2006 team that impressed so much on home soil and they will again be essential to German hopes. Aside from Klose and Lahm, there is still giant centre-back Per Mertesacker, midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger and forward Lukas Podolski, all practically certain to start, with Arne Friedrich also a contender. Michael Ballack would have joined that group but for injury, and while the spine of the side has experience of at least one – and in some cases, more than one World Cup, there are a number of fresh faces preparing for their first taste of top level international football. These newcomers are not weak links however; rather they can offer Germany an added dimension, particularly the vision of Mesut Ozil. Ozil may be the key to getting the best out of Klose and therefore, the best out of Germany.