No other country in the world is currently producing talented young footballers at the rate Germany is. The depth of quality in the squad is at its highest for at least 15 years and leaves Joachim Low with a surplus of options.
|GERMANY'S SELECTION DILEMMAS
Marco Reus, Miroslav Klose and Andre Schurrle all came in for Thomas Muller, Mario Gomez and Lukas Podolski and outperformed them in arguably Germany’s best performance at the tournament so far. Although such an assembly line of talent would be a luxury to many, it can be problematic as Low’s selection dilemma ahead of their important semi-final against Italy proves.
Memorable matches of the past aside, much of the pre-game discussion has surrounded Low’s team selection. Will he stick with the players who performed so admirably against Greece or will he revert back to the initial line-up used in the group stage?
Low stressed this week that his line-up will be based more on tactics than form, saying: “I don’t want to base my line-up on the result of the last game but instead on what I need against the next opponent. Italy are a completely different animal [than Greece].”
Neither Podolski nor Muller have been at their best so far though, and Schurrle and Reus’ energy was a refreshing change from the dulled German attack of the group stages. The question is whether Reus and Schurrle would have the time or space to cut inside or run at defenders the way they did against a sitting Greece.
Low admittedly emphasised a more defensive approach before the quarter-finals and may choose to return to that. Podolski and Muller present a more conservative choice, both tasked with increased defensive duties by Low in the group stage.
Against the more technically proficient and tactically organised Italians, caution might very well prove the right approach but Low is not beyond throwing that caution into the wind and could surprise everyone again, explaining: “We must bring our own game to the field and not cater to our opponent.”
The most discussed, and controversial, of his selections is probably the choice between Miroslav Klose and Mario Gomez, which in this case is very much a contrast of styles for Low. Klose scored against Italy in their last encounter in a friendly last year and was also part of the team that played them in the 2006 World Cup semi-final, so experience is very much on his side but what probably speaks for the 34-year-old more is his creativity and mobility.
The Lazio striker has a great understanding with Mesut Ozil and simply suits the team’s attack better, which was evident against Greece where Germany created a goalscoring opportunity every 3.4 minutes. Gomez, on the other hand, is the more traditional targetman, deadly when presented with a chance, but more stationary and reliant on the service around him.
Against a disciplined Italian defence, Gomez may just be the more practical choice though. When Roy Hodgson brought on Andy Carroll, Italy were posed more questions by the towering striker. Carroll won nearly every aerial duel - albeit to little benefit - and outmuscled his markers. That susceptibility against strong physical forwards bodes well for Gomez. Whereas Carroll lacked options to play the ball to once he won it, Gomez has them in spades.
Lastly, Bastian Schweinsteiger’s starting place still remains in doubt. The influential midfielder admitted he was still struggling with an ankle injury he picked up in February and his game suffered as a result against Greece. As Low himself confessed, Schweinsteiger is key to Germany’s chances of progressing to the final: “He is very confident and we will need him. He is an emotional leader and he is important to us.”
Nevertheless, Low will not take any risks if his players are not fully fit: “No player will play if he is only 95 percent fit. He [Schweinsteiger] had some problems with his passes against Greece. The speed in his game lacked a bit but we will work on that.”
Schweinsteiger assured on Wednesday that he is "100 per cent", but should Low disagree, then Bayern Munich team-mate Toni Kroos will fill in. While Kroos is no doubt talented he does not quite have the ability to put his stamp on the game like Schweinsteiger.
Schweini's absence would also put more pressure on Sami Khedira against an Italian team that usually fields four central midfielders. A win against the Azzurri would be Germany’s 500th since their very first international match in 1908. By reaching the final die Mannschaft would also set a record of five consecutive European Championship wins, equalling the great France of 1984.
But who the XI will be to set all these records remains to be seen. What is certain is that Low’s team selection could be the difference between another semi final disappointment and their first international trophy in nearly two decades.