By Clark Whitney | Germany Expert
Decisions, decisions. Just three days remain for Joachim Low to name his final, 23-man squad for Euro 2012, and this time, the challenge is greater than ever.
If the head coach had it his way, he would have decided on a full team weeks ago, with all players reporting to the training camp in Sardinia on May 11. But with club commitments preventing many key figures from joining their countrymen on the Italian island, Low had no choice but to nominate an expanded 27-man group.
In April, Franz Beckenbauer claimed Low's talent pool is the best in the nation's history. Competition is accordingly at a high not only for starting spots, but even for a place in the final cut.
Following Low's initial squad announcement, many were quick to label the four "throw-aways." Julian Draxler and Marc-Andre ter Stegen were far too young, Ilkay Gundogan had only a few weeks of brilliant football under his belt, and there was only room for one of the Bender twins.
|"We've always had a high level of quality in the national team squad. But Jogi, you now have the best squad of all time"
However, Low has always been a strong proponent of the necessity of competition for a place in his team, and in a recent press conference denied that he had already decided who to cut. Indeed, many reports from the German camp suggest that the trainer will turn heads with his final selection.
Low has been particularly impressed by Gundogan and Ter Stegen, with reports claiming that the trainer will take the two to Poland and Ukraine, despite having just one senior cap between them. With Bastian Schweinsteiger and Toni Kroos having only recently joined the national team following club commitments, Gundogan is anticipated to start alongside Sami Khedira in midfield during Saturday's friendly with Switzerland. Ter Stegen maybe given the chance to prove his worth, possibly in a head-to-head with Zieler in either half. Even Draxler is expected to have his chances against the Swiss, with Hamburger Abendblatt claiming the Schalke youngster will play from the beginning.
Assuming they all play, it will be a real test of Gundogan, Ter Stegen and Draxler's nerves and adaptability as they try to stake a claim in Low's squad. All appear to have a future with Germany: if they fail to make the cut in 2012, they will surely return in the coming years.
However, the prospect is less bright for Ron-Robert Zieler and Cacau. The former may only be 23 years old, but he lives in a golden era of German goalkeepers. With the likes of Ter Stegen and Bernd Leno only the beginning of a deep talent pool, the Hannover man might never return to the national team if he is dropped before the European Championship.
|"Of course there are players (who are being watched closely). But I don't need to mention any names. As for players who have been mentioned as sure cuts, everyone has a fair chance"
Cacau has always been a favourite of Low's, but at 31 and having scored just eight goals last season, he has become more of a placeholder as the head coach waits for a new option to emerge in the centre of attack. With Low having declared that Marco Reus can play as his lone striker, the trainer now has three options aside from Cacau in that position - Miroslav Klose, Mario Gomez and Reus - meaning that the Stuttgart man could face the axe.
While training is a good indicator of a player's desire, there is no substitute for actual performance on the field of play. With many of Low's key players not yet ready to compete, the Switzerland match offers the perfect opportunity for the coach to assess all his options and see which members of his squad are ready for Euro 2012, and which just aren't quite sharp enough.
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