Germany Camp Focus – Cool heads key for Die Mannschaft to progress

For all the recriminations over the slow start to this year’s World Cup, there was one team undoubtedly exempt from criticism – Joachim Low’s Germany. The three-time winners were superb against Australia, the highlight of the first round of group games, but as the second lot of fixtures began the standard for most teams improved, while Die Mannschaft again bucked the trend with a poorer performance against Serbia, partly down to a poor show from the Spanish referee and the loss of Miroslav Klose to a harsh red card but mostly due to the improved opposition. Now with one game against Ghana left to ensure progression to the next stage, Germany have to find the means to cope without their main striker against a Black Stars side every bit as strong as Serbia.

Cacau, the Brazilian-born Stuttgart striker is likely to be given the starting nod over Mario Gomez, having gotten off the mark in the rout over Australia, and although he may be 29, having only made his international debut last year the naturalised forward is still inexperienced at this level – 10 caps, four goals. With the likes of Thomas Muller, Mesut Ozil and Holger Badstuber all amongst Low’s first XI, and none of them boasting more than 15 caps, the experienced heads of Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm and Lukas Podolski become even more important in this must-win Ghana game. Podolski himself showed admirable courage to take the penalty against Serbia, but his lax effort from 12 yards threatens to cloud the rest of his tournament. For a young veteran such as the 25-year-old, with 75 caps since 2004, it is vital he realises missing a penalty is not terminal to his nation’s aspirations this year but the wrong reaction from one of their key players could be. To make amends, Poldi does not need to do anything out of the ordinary – his natural game is what makes him valuable to Germany, the rasping drives his left foot produces and his knack for being in the right place at the right time, and doing what he does best will be of great help to Germany against their African opponents.

For their part, Ghana’s World Cup has been hampered by the loss of Michael Essien, and that gaping hole in midfield could be exploited by the excellent Schweinsteiger. Ghana have not been able to cope with the loss of their midfield general in the same way Germany have – so far – coped without Michael Ballack. The ex-Chelsea player was injured in the F.A Cup Final by Ghana’s German-born Kevin-Prince Boateng, and while it would be supremely unprofessional of the remaining German players to take revenge on the Portsmouth player – and with Jerome Boateng, Kevin’s half-brother, part of the Germany squad, highly unlikely – it certainly adds an extra layer of spice to Wednesday evening’s meeting. It feels almost inevitable that the Ghanaian Boateng will make an appearance and be involved in a moment of minor-controversy that will be blown out of proportion due to his history with Ballack, or perhaps score a vital goal to threaten Germany’s qualification – such are the ironies that regularly abound in football. Germany general manager Oliver Bierhoff has already gone on record to say Boateng will not be targeted by the players, but that is unlikely to stop a tabloid media desperate to dramatise every match over-analysing any incident involving the 23-year-old.

This is effectively the first game of Germany’s knock-out period in the World Cup – a defeat, combined with a Serbia victory, sends Low home and surely guarantees his departure from the national team at the end of his contract, after the end of the tournament. A draw and a Serbia win is no good either – Die Mannschaft cannot rely on Australia to take points given the topsy-turvy nature of their World Cup so far. Only the Germany players can control their future with victory over Ghana, which could condemn their opponents to elimination. The permutations in Group D are many and varied but one thing for certain is three points gives Germany a date with one of the qualifiers from England’s Group C, a bracket with as many possibilities as this one. Even with the unpredictable nature of the World Cup to date, Germany falling at the first stage after their excellent first showing, would be amongst the biggest shocks possible. It is down the Lahm, Schweinsteiger and Podolski to guide their less experienced teammates through this frying pan and into the fire of the latter stages.

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