Hoping for a Houdini act

Team in focus Germany: Injuries and loss of form of key players have reduced Germanys power

Hoping for a Houdini act

Can they deliver?: Germany’s Lukas Podolski (left), Arne Friedrich (centre) and Piotr  Trochowski train at the Italian city of Appiano. APUnlike in previous tournaments, however, Germany cannot really be included among the title favourites, despite their comfortable qualification. With their strikers Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski in a long-term slump and captain Michael Ballack out injured, Germany must dig deeper into the squad to find the talent which can take them through to the knock-out stages.

Coach Joachim Loew is still undecided on who will start in goal with Rene Adler absent through injury. Adler, Tim Wiese and Manuel Neuer had been locked in a tightly contested race since the suicide of Robert Enke last year, with Adler apparently ahead -- until his rib injury. A shaky defence, with central defenders Per Mertesacker, Arne Friedrich and Heiko Westermann still some way from top form, will have its work cut out against the quick Ghanaians, the physical presence of Australia and the skilled Serbians in Group D.
Mesut Ozil, Marko Marin, Toni Kroos and Thomas Mueller will inject skill and creativity that may have been missing in the midfield in the past, but their lack of international experience is striking. On a good day they can tear any defence to shreds but there have not been many good days as Loew's team struggled in their 2-2 draw against Ivory Coast and were outplayed by Argentina in the 1-0 defeat earlier this year. Striker Stefan Kiessling could provide a solution up front and much-needed power in the air with Klose and Podolski both out of form.

Loew had yet to decide whether to call up another player to help him cover the absence of influential midfielder Ballack who injured his ankle playing for Chelsea in last weekend's FA Cup final win against Portsmouth. Judging from past World Cups it would be a mistake to rule Germany out, and they should qualify from the group stage, but Germany have a mountain to climb in search of their first World Cup win since 1990.

Man of determination

No pressure, says Bastian

Germany midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger's World Cup task has just got a lot harder.
The 25-year-old Bayern Munich player is expected to carry a bigger burden after captain Michael Ballack, who pulled the strings in Germany's midfield, was forced to withdraw from the tournament following an ankle injury.Schweinsteiger, who has won 73 caps and scored 19 goals since his first appearance in 2004, was long considered a major talent.
But he was also seen to be lacking that consistency and determination found among players wanting to lead. That was the reason Bayern fans jeered and whistled when they saw him at the annual general meeting early in the season.

The midfielder, preparing for his second World Cup, does not feel any extra pressure now that Ballack is out of the squad. "It's a loss for the team, because of his personality and responsibilities, but I am convinced that we can still play a good World Cup without him," Schweinsteiger said. "Either way I would have had those added responsibilities.” 

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