Kick-Off: Wednesday, March 3, 2010, 20:45 CET
Allianz Arena, Munich, Germany
Germany In Transition
Since losing to Spain in the Euro 2008 final, Joachim Loew has shuffled and reshuffled his squad in search of the right combination. The emergence of Mesut Oezil, Marko Marin, Toni Kroos, Thomas Mueller and Aaron Hunt as undeniably qualified attacking midfield options has resulted in Loew being spoilt for choice.
Yet, despite the abundance of young and talented midfield options, Germany’s biggest problems - the centres of attack and defence - have yet to be addressed. Having snubbed Holger Badstuber, Mats Hummels and Benedikt Hoewedes, it seems that Loew will look to partner Per Mertesacker and Heiko Westermann, who have previously appeared susceptible, at the back.
In the forward line, the situation is, perhaps even worse. The only German internationals with any degree of form at club level are Stefan Kiessling (who actually has struggled to find the net since the winter break) and Cacau, neither of whom has much experience at the international level.
Between now and June 13, Loew has four chances to shuffle his line-up and try to draw aces. With Westermann and Simon Rolfes excluded from this Wednesday’s squad due to injuries, the Germany gaffer will have no choice but to grant opportunities for fringe players to prove themselves in a very competitive atmosphere. Those who impress in training will earn their chances to feature against a star-studded Argentina side.
“This is a welcome challenge,” Loew said of the upcoming friendly. “Argentina are attractive, strong opponents who will demand everything from us,” he concluded.
Indeed, Loew’s youngsters will have to be in peak form on Wednesday, or their first run-outs in German colours may be a baptism by fire.
Crunch Time For Maradona
Messi, Aguero, Milito, Higuain, Lavezzi, Tevez, Di Maria, Cambiasso, Mascherano, Veron, Gago, Maxi, Zanetti.
With names like these, it’s no wonder Diego Maradona has yet to choose his preferred starting line-up for the World Cup. There are simply too many superstars, all of whom would be able to walk into nearly any side in world football and make an improvement.
Having had very limited coaching experience, it was a real struggle for Maradona to take over as Argentina coach, and it showed in his team’s results. Losses to Paraguay, Equador (twice) and Brazil left Argentina on the verge of having to play a play-off match in order to qualify for the World Cup, but October’s 1-0 win over Uruguay ensured Maradona and company a ticket to South Africa.
With just two friendlies left before the tournament begins, it’s crunch time for Maradona as he tries to find the right combination for World Cup glory. The friendly with Germany offers Argentina the opportunity to experiment against opposition unlike that faced in CONMEBOL qualifiers. Like Group B rivals Greece and Nigeria, Germany are a large, physically imposing team. Like other European sides such as England and Spain, Germany play a balanced, control-based passing game, and will actively try to win the midfield battle.
How Maradona’s side can fare against European opposition will go a long way in telling just what to expect at the World Cup from this year’s outstanding crop of Argentine talents. If Wednesday’s match is anything like these teams’ last meeting at the 2006 World Cup, it will be a riveting affair.
18 Nov v Ivory Coast (H) DREW 2-2 (Friendly)
14 Oct v Finland (H) DREW 1-1 (World Cup Qualifying)
10 Oct v Russia (A) WON 1-0 (World Cup Qualifying)
9 Sept v Azerbaijan (H) WON 4-0 (World Cup Qualifying)
5 Sept v South Africa (H) WON 2-0 (Friendly)
10 Feb v Jamaica (H) WON 2-1 (Friendly)
26 Jan v Costa Rica (H) WON 3-2 (Friendly)
22 Dec v Catalunya (A) LOST 4-2 (Friendly)
14 Nov v Spain (A) LOST 2-1 (Friendly)
14 Oct v Uruguay (A) WON 1-0 (World Cup Qualifying)
It’s a real toss-up as to who will be selected in Jogi Loew’s side. With Simon Rolfes and Heiko Westermann out of contention, Sami Khedira and Serdar Tasci are likely candidates to earn starting roles in the centres of midfield and defence, respectively. Philipp Lahm may retain his previous left-sided berth so that he can cover Messi, which would suggest a starting role for either Jerome Boateng or Arne Friedrich. In attacking roles, it’s a real toss-up between several in-form attacking midfielders and inexperienced or out-of-form strikers.
Previous Starting XI: Wiese – Boateng, Mertesacker, Westermann, Lahm – Schweinsteiger, Hitzlsperger, Trochowski – Oezil – Kiessling, Podolski
Roll the dice, pick a formation and starting line-up. Honestly, there’s no telling just how Diego Maradona will organise his team. The World Cup winner has experimented with 4-3-1-2, 3-4-1-2, 3-4-2-1, 3-4-3, 4-4-2, and 4-2-2-2 systems since taking over as Argentina coach in 2008, and how he will line up his squad on Wednesday is a complete mystery. Venturing a guess, Lionel Messi should start in attack, but with a squad brimming with both young and old talent, Maradona is truly spoilt for choice.
Previous Starting XI: Campestrini – Clemente, Matheu, Burdisso, Monzon – Sosa, Mercier, Erviti – Gaitan – Hauche, Palermo
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Mesut Oezil/Toni Kroos/Marko Marin/Thomas Mueller/Aaron Hunt (Germany)
With Piotr Trochowski’s dip in form, there has become a vacancy in attacking midfield that Jogi Loew is almost sure to fill with one of Germany’s young and rising talents. In late 2009, that vacancy was filled by Werder Bremen starlet Mesut Oezil, but the 21-year old is only one of a host of new midfield prospects, each of whom has a chance at earning some playing time.
Lionel Messi (Argentina)
The reigning Ballon d’Or winner has, time and time again, proven himself in Barcelona colours, but has yet to fully replicate his club form on the international stage. With the World Cup looming on the horizon, expect Messi to make an extra effort this Wednesday. And, of course, watch him because he’s the best player in the world.
Much depends on the teams that both sides field, but if both teams come out at their strongest, I’ll have to tip this one to Germany. Argentina have plenty of attacking power, but if the matches against Catalunya, Spain, and even Costa Rica are any indicators, their weakness is in defense. Germany have a reputation of punishing such weaknesses, and despite their lack of in-form strikers, should be able to put away at least one or two of their chances.
Germany 2-1 Argentina