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World Cup preview: Germany

Ahead of this summer's World Cup in Russia, Sports Mole assesses the chances of holders Germany as they bid to become the first team since 1962 to defend the title.

Defending champions Germany will once again be one of the favourites to hoist the World Cup above their heads on July 15 when they travel out to Russia this summer.

The four-time winners ended a 24-year wait for the trophy at Brazil 2014, inflicting one of the most humiliating defeats in World Cup history on the hosts in the process.

The Germany team line up before their friendly game with Saudi Arabia on June 8, 2018© Reuters

Die Mannschaft boast the competition's leading all-time scorer in Miroslav Klose, while current squad member Thomas Muller has more World Cup goals to his name than any other player at the tournament.

Add to that an incredible record in major tournaments which has seen them reach at least the semi-finals in 22 of the 30 editions of the World Cup or European Championships they have competed in, and it is no surprise that they are so fancied to go far again in Russia.

Here, Sports Mole assesses Germany's chances of becoming the first team since 1962 to successfully defend the title.


GROUP

Not too many people will be backing Germany to finish any lower than top of Group F this summer, having been drawn alongside Mexico, Sweden and South Korea.

World Cup Group F

Not since the 1986 World Cup have Germany failed to top their group, and it would take a fairly major upset along the way if they were to be denied doing so for the eighth successive tournament this summer.

The champions kick things off against Mexico in Moscow before taking on Sweden - who beat Italy to book their place at the finals - and South Korea in their final two games.

GERMANY FIXTURES

June 17: Germany vs. Mexico (4pm, Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow)
June 23: Germany vs. Sweden (7pm, Fisht Olympic Stadium, Sochi)
June 27: South Korea vs. Germany (3pm, Central Stadium, Yekaterinburg)


HOW THEY QUALIFIED

As though Germany's record at major tournaments was not daunting enough, Joachim Low's side also boast the distinction of being the only team at Russia 2018 to have qualified with a perfect record - the first time they have done so.

Die Mannschaft won all 10 of their matches in Group C to finish 11 points clear of Northern Ireland in second, also beating Czech Republic, Norway, Azerbaijan and San Marino home and away along the way.

Germany players celebrate during a World Cup qualifier with Northern Ireland in October 2017© Reuters

Germany's tally of 43 goals scored was also the joint most in the entire qualifying section, netting at least three times in all but two of their matches.

A perfect qualification record is by no means a guarantee that the tournament itself will go well, but in Germany's case the signs look ominous for most others.


RECENT FORM

Qualifying with ease is to be expected from the Germans, of course, as they have a knack of simply getting the job done - something that also tends to stand them in good stead at the finals themselves.

Their record since rounding off their qualifying campaign has been pretty dismal by their standards, though, having drawn three and lost two of their last six friendlies.

Germany's players celebrate after scoring during their World Cup warm-up match against Saudi Arabia on June 8, 2018© Reuters

The 2-1 triumph against Saudi Arabia in the most recent of those games was much needed, ending Germany's worst run of form since 1931 - not ideal on the eve of a World Cup that you have been heavily backed to win!

Failing to beat any of England, France or Spain, on top of the shock 2-1 loss to Austria, is no doubt a cause for concern for Low, but the experienced boss has used those matches to experiment and will be glad to have got the blip out of the way.


SQUAD

Germany World Cup squad

Goalkeepers: Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich), Marc-Andre ter Stegen (Barcelona), Kevin Trapp (Paris St-Germain).

Defenders: Jerome Boateng (Bayern Munich), Matthias Ginter (Borussia Monchengladbach), Jonas Hector (Cologne), Mats Hummels (Bayern Munich), Joshua Kimmich (Bayern Munich), Marvin Plattenhardt (Hertha Berlin), Antonio Rudiger (Chelsea), Niklas Sule (Bayern Munich).

Midfielders: Julian Brandt (Bayer Leverkusen), Julian Draxler (Paris St-Germain), Leon Goretska (Schalke), Ilkay Gundogan (Manchester City), Sami Khedira (Juventus), Toni Kroos (Real Madrid), Mesut Ozil (Arsenal), Sebastian Rudy (Bayern Munich).

Strikers: Mario Gomez (Stuttgart), Thomas Muller (Bayern Munich), Marco Reus (Borussia Dortmund), Timo Werner (RB Leipzig).


STAR PLAYER - Thomas Muller

Thomas Muller in action for Germany on October 8, 2017© Reuters

Take your pick - pretty much every one of the 20 outfield players selected in Low's squad, as well as returning goalkeeper Manuel Neuer could stake a claim as being the key player in this talented side.

One player always seems to be unheralded when it comes to putting his achievements into perspective, though, with Muller on course to become the tournament's leading all-time scorer.

The Bayern Munich forward may have an awkward playing style, but he is pretty much the best around at what he does. Throw crucial goals into the mix, including 10 in 13 previous finals matches, and he may yet prove to be the star of Russia 2018.

At the age of 28, and with two or three World Cups still in him, Muller will fancy his chances of overhauling countryman Klose as the competition's outright leading scorer, requiring seven goals to do so.

A Golden Boot winner in 2010 and Silver Boot winner in 2014, the Bayern academy product is primed to create chances from wide and chip in with more key goals in Germany's latest pursuit of world glory.


MANAGER - Joachim Low

Germany manager Joachim Low on March 27, 2018© Reuters

No other manager at this summer's World Cup can match the experience and winning international pedigree of Low, who will be leading his country into a sixth major tournament and a third World Cup as boss - in addition to one more as assistant.

Incredibly, Germany have never finished lower than third in any of those tournaments, including a third-placed finish at the 2010 World Cup before lifting the trophy in Brazil four years ago.

Prior to his appointment as Germany boss in 2006, Low's most successful managerial stint came with Stuttgart from 1996 to 1998, while he also lifted silverware in Austria.

The 58-year-old - who also led Die Mannschaft to Confederations Cup glory last year - recently extended his contract until 2022, taking him through to the end of the Qatar World Cup.


WORLD CUP RECORD

Best finish: Winners (1954, 1974, 1990, 2014)

Germany's players celebrate their 2014 World Cup triumph© Reuters

Brazil may have one more title to their name than Germany, but Die Mannschaft's incredible consistency on the biggest stage puts them right alongside the five-time champions as the greatest World Cup nations.

Germany have finished no lower than third in each of the past four tournaments, last failing to reach the semi-finals in France 1998. Indeed, in their 18 previous World Cup campaigns, they have only failed to reach the last four on five occasions.

The 24-year wait which separated their 1990 title - their last as West Germany - from their 2014 coronation is the longest they have gone without lifting the trophy, and this summer they are bidding to become only the third nation after Italy and Brazil to retain the title.

Germany reached three successive finals from 1982 to 1990 and, in addition to their four titles, have finished as runners-up four times, in third place four times and in fourth place once.

There have been many notable games, players and moments to have graced this competition in the German shirt, but perhaps their abiding memory came just four years ago when they humbled Brazil in front of their own fans with a ruthless 7-1 win in the semi-final at the Maracana.

Overall, Germany have played 106 World Cup matches, winning 66 of those with 20 draws and 20 defeats. Die Mannschaft have also scored 224 goals while conceding 121.


PREDICTION

Germany always seem to reach at least the semi-finals at major tournaments, and we don't see this summer in Russia being any different.

Die Mannschaft should maintain their remarkable record of topping their World Cup group, which should see them avoid Brazil and face either Serbia, Costa Rica or Switzerland in the last 16 - all of whom they will be expected to beat.

Our projection has them then beating Colombia in the quarter-finals before taking on Spain in the last four, and in a contest between arguably the two best squads in the tournament we are once again backing Low's side to come out on top.

However, we expect their bid for back-to-back world titles to fall at the final hurdle with defeat to Brazil on July 15 in Moscow.

VERDICT: Runners-up

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How far will Germany go at this summer's World Cup?

Group Stages
Last 16
Quarter-finals
Semi-finals
Runners-up
Winners
Group Stages
25.0%
Last 16
0.0%
Quarter-finals
0.0%
Semi-finals
0.0%
Runners-up
50.0%
Winners
25.0%
Joachim Low at a Germany press conference on May 24, 2018
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