MADRID, SPAIN - MAY 22: Goran Pandev of Inter Milan is challenged by Philipp Lahm (C) and Bastian Schweinsteiger of Bayern Muenchen during the UEFA Champions League Final match between FC Bayern Muenchen and Inter Milan at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on May 22, 2010 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Goran Pandev;Philipp Lahm;Bastian Schweinsteiger
FIFA RANK: 6
Power. Speed. Precision. Pace. This may sound like a commercial for Mercedez-Benz, but it defines the German national soccer team. The Germans head into South Africa looking to add to an impressive record in World Cup play. Even the squad's nickname is awesome..."Die Mannschaft" which in German means "The Team." Germany has won three World Cup titles, played in seven total cup finals, and hasn't missed the tournament since 1950. Add three Euro Cup titles and you can see why this is easily one of the best soccer nations in the world.
But despite all the success, this nation and current crop of players are hungrier than ever to win the cup this summer because they've suffered some painful losses in international play this decade (2000-2010). Germany fell to Brazil in the '02 World Cup final. They hosted the cup four years ago and fell to the Italians in extra time in the semis. And two years ago, Die Mannschaft lost to Spain in the Euro '08 final.
Those performances led to sky high expectations this summer. And the optimism was at a fever pitch until Die Mannschaft's best player got hurt. Team captain Michael Ballack is one of the top mid-fielders in the game, but was injured in his final club match for Chelsea and will unfortunately miss the entire tournament. Its a huge blow for this team, but happened about a month ago so the squad has had time to adjust.
Ballack is a beast, but don't get me wrong, the rest of the roster is loaded with talent. Up front, Lukas Podolski teams with two-time cup veteran Miroslav Klose to form one of the best scoring tandems in Europe. Philipp Lahm is an explosive full back who can make runs up front and is also considered Germany's best defensive player. But if I had to make a bet on one player to make a name for himself this summer, it would be attacking midfielder Mesut Ozil. The 21 year old Werder Bremen star is so important to this team's chances because he brings something this side has lacked for years, flair and creativity. Much of the attack in midfield will go through Ozil, but he is very young and it remains to be seen whether he can handle the weight of the German nation on his thin shoulders.
Bottom line, I do like this squad to keep the model of consistency going and advance far into the tournament eventhough they are missing Ballack and been drawn into a brutal group. What i've always admired about the roster is it's filled with players who play domestically in Germany. Few if any ever leave to play in England, Spain or Italy. That cohesiveness means something when your mental toughness and will are challenged. If all the parts fall into place, there's no reason this finely tuned Mercedez-Benz like machine shouldn't just keep rolling along.
June 13 vs. Australia- 1:30 p.m. CT (No doubt this will be close, but I see Germans pulling it out late)
June 18 vs. Serbia- 6:30 a.m. CT (Has draw written all over it, will be one of the more physical matches in group play)
June 23 vs. Ghana- 1:30 p.m. CT (Loses some of it glitz with Ballack and Essien both out, but it will decide a place in second round)
NEXT ON THE PITCH: ITALY