What was an experienced and technical team was suddenly swept over with uncertainty and questions when it was announced captain Michael Ballack would miss the 2010 World Cup with an ankle injury, suffered while playing for Chelsea in the FA Cup final. Germany now must quickly find a way to adapt before South Africa, and learn how to perform without a player that coach Joachim Löw already called "irreplaceable."
So what does it mean for Germany and 2010? It means Nationalmannschaft (national team) must figure out a replacement at central midfield, and fast - Germany opens play in South Africa against Australia on June 13. A couple options for a new central midfielder are Bayern Munich's Toni Kroos and Bastian Schweinsteiger. But Ballack is not simply replaced.
The loss of Ballack means the loss of the team's leader. He was named captain in 2004, and he has the sixth-most caps for the country, with 98, and has tallied 42 goals in those matches (seventh best all-time for the German national team). This disappointment is all too familiar for Ballack, after falling in the championship of both the 2002 World Cup and EURO in 2008. And at 33-years old, South Africa was likely his last opportunity for success on sport's grandest stage.
It's not only Ballack's injury that is cause for some hand wringing among the supporters of Mannschaft (literally meaning "The Team"). South Africa marks the World Cup debut of coach Joachim Löw, who takes over after serving as an assistant during Jurgen Klinsmann's two-year run. Löw has continued his successor's attacking philosophy, receiving good marks for the way he handles the star players, and brings with him a reputation of discipline and order, saying, "Meticulous and painstaking hard work is the only way to succeed."
But the big question obviously remains to be Ballack, and how his team responds without its captain. Whether or not they are able to provide a suitable answer will likely determine Germany's success, or lack thereof, in South Africa.
How They Got Here
Germany qualified for South Africa by winning Group 4 in European qualifying. And they did so in rather dominant fashion. The Germans did not drop any of their 10 qualifying matches (eight wins, two draws, both against Finland). The Germans took first place in the groups with 26 points, beating out Russia who finished second (22 points). And it was against Russia that Germany truly shined, winning 2-1 at home and then 1-0 in Moscow, dealing Russia its first-ever Would Cup qualifying loss on home soil.
How They've Fared Before
Germany is no stranger to the World Cup, nor success on the sport's biggest stage - the Germans have won the title three times (all as West Germany, most recently in 1990), which has them behind only the Brazilians and Italians for the most ever. Four other times, Nationalmannschaft finished second, including their loss to Brazil in 2002's championship. As hosts in 2006, Germany ended up third after falling to Italy, the eventual winner.
In all, Germany has qualified for all 16 World Cups it entered (they did not participate in 1930 nor 1950), and has found themselves in the finals seven times. They lead all countries with 11 semifinal appearances and since 1954 (or the past 14 tournaments).
Bastian Schweinsteiger is one of Germany's most consistent performers at the international level, but in the absence of Michael Ballack, he may also need to be one of the squad's leader. (Photo Content © 2010 ZumaPress All rights reserved.)
Players To Watch
Michael Ballack is ... uh, ever mind.
When the Germans are in the need of scoring, expect eyes to stare in Miroslav Klose's direction. Particularly, his head. Klose, a striker who earns a paycheck with Bayern Munich, is Germany's second-best goal scorer ever, registering 48 goals in 94 caps. In the 2006 World Cup, Klose led everyone with five goals - all headers - earning him the Golden Shoe, ironically enough. In 2002, Klose took home the Silver Shoe, again tallying five goals.
Bastian Schweinsteiger is a dangerous scorer who usually plays left-wing but could find himself in a more central position to replace the loss of Ballack (which is where he played this past season with Bayern Munich). After briefly losing his starting job to Mario Gomez to better accommodate the tandem of Lukas Podolski and Klose, Schweinsteiger has worked his way back into the starting 11, and played in nine of Germany's 10 qualifying matches, contributing 3 goals.
Lukas Podolski has proven that Poland's oversight is Germany's gain. Podolski, a Polish-born striker who joined Germany's national team in 2004 after getting passed over by Poland, has become a dangerous scorer, totaling 37 goals in 71 caps, already best for ninth all-time on the national team. With Klose, also Polish born, Podolski forms a threatening attack pair for the Germans, which helped Podolski score three goals and earn the 2006 World Cup's Best Young Player.
Manuel Neuer is likely to be the keeper in South Africa, taking over after the number-one, Rene Adler, was ruled out of the Cup with a rib injury. Good luck to Neuer, who is just 24-years old.
How Far Can They Get
Germany should easily advance to knockout round, most likely in the top slot of Group D. After all, in the past 14 Cups, Germany has always advanced to at least the final eight teams. But that is not to say that it will necessarily be easy - if not for Group G, Germany's pod may have earned the dreaded alias "Group of Death," with a strong Ghanaian team likely to place second. A challenging pair of clubs round out the group: Serbia and Australia.
From there, Germany would face the runner-up of Group C, likely either England or the U.S. Assuming another win there, which would keep their quarter-finals streak in tact, it's on to play either Group B's winner (Argentina being the favorite) or Group A's runner-up (a weak group, featuring Mexico, Uruguay, France and the hosts, South Africa). A win here to advance to the semi-finals is expected by the German supporters, but even with the experience and firepower Die Mannschaft brings with them to South Africa, a trip to the final four is very much up in the air with no Michael Ballack (just hours after the announcement of Ballack's injury, Germany's odds to win the tournament dropped from 12/1 to 16/1).
|June 18||Serbia||Port Elizabeth|
|Bütt, Hans-Jörg||36||3||0||Bayern Munich (Germany)|
|Neuer, Manuel||24||3||0||Schalke 04 (Germany)|
|Wiese, Tim||28||2||0||Werder Bremen (Germany)|
|Aogo, Dennis||23||1||0||Hamburger SV (Germany)|
|Badstuber, Holger||21||0||0||Bayern Munich (Germany)|
|Beck, Andreas||23||7||0||Hoffenheim (Germany)|
|Jerome Boateng||4||0||0||Hamburger SV (Germany)|
|Friedrich, Arne||31||70||0||Hertha BSC (Germany)|
|Jansen, Marcell||24||30||2||Hamburger SV (Germnany)|
|Lahm, Philipp||26||64||3||Bayern Munich (Germany)|
|Mertesacker, Per||25||60||1||Werder Bremen (Germany)|
|Tasci, Serdar||23||11||0||Stuttgart (Germany)|
|Westermann, Heiko||26||18||2||Schalke 04 (Germany)|
|Khedira, Sami||23||3||0||Stuttgart (Germany)|
|Kroos, Toni||20||2||0||Bayern Munich (Germany)|
|Marin, Marko||21||7||1||Werder Bremen (Germany)|
|Özil, Mesut||21||8||1||Werder Bremen (Germany)|
|Schweinsteiger, Bastian||25||74||19||Bayern Munich (Germany)|
|Träsch, Christian||22||2||9||Stuttgart (Germany)|
|Trochowski, Piotr||26||29||2||Hamburger SV (Germany)|
|Gómez, Mario||24||32||11||Bayern Munich (Germany)|
|Kießling, Stefan||26||4||0||Bayer Leverkusen (Germany)|
|Klose, Miroslav||32||94||48||Bayern Munich (Germany)|
|Müller, Thomas||20||1||0||Bayern Munich (Germany)|
|Podolski, Lukas||25||71||37||Köln (Germany)|
* - age as of June 11