Germany have been struck by a string of injuries in the centre of the park, leaving Joachim Low with an unwanted conundrum ahead of the tournament
By Enis Koylu
Around a year ago, Germany had an embarrassment of riches in midfield. Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira were the incumbent choices for the 'Doppelsechs' position but had stern competition from the likes of Ilkay Gundogan, both Lars and Sven Bender and Toni Kroos all starring at elite clubs.
However, over the course of the 2013-14 campaign, injuries have taken their toll on Joachim Low's troops. Gundogan has not featured since a friendly against Paraguay 10 months ago, and his Dortmund colleague, Sven Bender has been on the sidelines since February.
His twin brother Lars was included in the squad for the World Cup but was forced to withdraw thanks a to thigh injury and Khedira has played just three matches since November, when he tore his anterior cruciate ligament.
Philipp Lahm emerged as a contender to partner Schweinsteiger after playing in the centre of the park for Bayern Munich, while Kroos' performances for his country this season have been a marked improvement. So, Goal examines Low's candidates in midfield.
There are, however, obvious difficulties. The former Stuttgart man has made just a handful of appearances since picking up an anterior cruciate ligament injury in November and freely admitted that he is not yet fit. "I think it's obvious that I was not at my best on the pitch. That's why I had to go off," he said after the 4-1 win over Atletico Madrid in Lisbon.
He did, however, insist that he will be fine come the start of the tournament and has long worked well with Schweinsteiger. Within the squad, he is a popular figure and has even captained the team on occasion and, despite his physical problems, remains the best candidate.
To say that Toni Kroos has had a turbulent international career would be an understatement. The Bayern Munich star has been bumped from position to position and came in for heavy criticism in the wake of their semi-final exit to Italy at Euro 2012 - when he played on the right wing.
A few injuries earlier in the season to Schweinsteiger and his rivals for a starting spot saw him perform admirably in the autumn internationals in the place of his club colleague after he had fallen behind in the pecking order.
However, the thought of playing him alongside Schweinsteiger will have the alarm bells ringing. Three recent examples of the duo playing in tandem with one another are the 4-4 draw at home to Sweden, the 5-3 win in the return in Stockholm and Bayern's 4-0 loss to Real Madrid in the Champions League.
In the wake of the collapse at home to the Scandinavians, Schweinsteiger admitted that they did not work well together, saying: "With a Bender, this would not have happened". With Germany facing strong group-stage oppositon in the form of Portugal, USA and Ghana, Low cannot afford to sacrifice defensive stability for further attacking quality.
Pep Guardiola's first season at Bayern Munich saw Philipp Lahm emerge as a serious contender for a spot in midfield after quickly becoming the heartbeat of his club side thanks to his calmness, experience and abundant quality.
Low was actually the first to toy with the idea of playing the 30-year-old in the centre of the park but perhaps would be wise to take his skipper out of his preferred position on the right-hand side of the back four.
Kevin Grosskreutz has emerged as a good understudy at full-back with a string of accomplished performances at the back for Borussia Dortmund this season but remains relatively inexperienced in the position.
With Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal waiting in the wings, Lahm must play in his normal position to help Germany through their daunting group. With enormous pressure on Germany in every game, now is not the time to experiment.
The thought that Christoph Kramer had a shot a World Cup place at the start of the season would have been the ridiculous, but the 23-year-old has impressed at Borussia Monchengladbach over the past campaign.
On loan from Bayer Leverkusen, Kramer made his international debut in the recent draw with Poland and he was widely expected to be dropped from Low's squad. However, Bender's injury and his strong performances at Borussia Park have handed him a shot at a trip to Brazil.
There are obvious risks, however. A year ago, he was playing second-tier football and has never played European football at club level. Furthermore, his solitary Germany cap came in a friendly alongside many other rookies starting their careers.
As such, playing him against the likes of Portugal, or later in the tournament, Spain and Brazil is a huge risk. Low is under pressure to deliver after going through three major tournaments without success and having a player so inexperienced in such a critical situation could just as easily prove a disaster as a masterstroke.