2014 World Cup Group G previews: Germany

Analysis of Germany's 2014 World Cup chances in a Group G with USA, Ghana and Portugal.

Germany team photo taken during World Cup qualifying on October 15, 2013. Marcus Brandt / EPA
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Germany head to Brazil aiming to end their 24-year wait for a fourth World Cup title, plenty sick of finishing third.
Consecutive semi-final defeats have led to Germany taking bronze at both of the last two World Cups. It is 12 years since the Germans lost the 2002 final to Brazil in Yokohama, Japan.
"I do not want to go out in the semi-finals again or visit Brazil just to soak up the sun," insists captain Philipp Lahm after a decade in the Germany team.
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"I have a clear goal, to achieve the biggest possible success and win the World Cup."
In order to break their duck, improved counter-attack and a tighter defence are the key areas coach Joachim Low wants to improve.
The squad is packed with attacking potential, but there have been rumours of discontent in the past with disgruntled stars disrupting the squad's harmony from the bench at both the 2012 European Championships and in the World Cup qualifiers.
"We have the necessary punch to win the title, but we must be sure that the talent and ego of every individual provides only for the team's benefit," said Lahm.
The 24-year wait for a fourth World Cup title is Germany's longest since first winning the global crown in 1954.
Younger members of the squad, including midfield star Mario Gotze, were yet to be born when West Germany won Italia 1990 - the last time they were world champions.
In the past, Low's strength has been to instill impressive cohesion into his side by hours of drilling. But injuries and a lack of fitness in his first-choice stars could hamper the process.
"We need to work on our flexibility and variation," said the 54-year-old.
"You always need a 'what-if' strategy during matches, but we also need to improve our counter-attacking when we have won the ball back.
"We haven't done that as consistently well as we did at the South African World Cup and immediately after."
Germany have made a habit of suffering from injuries going into World Cup campaigns.
In 2006, captain Michael Ballack was nursing a calf injury while current skipper Lahm needed elbow surgery.
In 2010, Chelsea's Ballack was ruled out by a nasty tackle in the FA Cup final from Ghana midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng while first-choice goalkeeper Rene Adler was ruled out with broken ribs.
In Ballack's absence, Lahm took over and has been Germany's captain ever since while Manuel Neuer has cemented his place between the posts and is widely regarded as one of the world's best goalkeepers.
However, four years on and the fault line runs right along the back-bone of Low's first-choice side.
Lars Bender's withdrawal has removed a defensive midfield option with Low's first-choice pairing of vice-captain Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira both lacking fitness after respective knee injuries.
Likewise, Neuer is battling a shoulder injury - never good for a goalkeeper - while Lahm is also being treated intensively for an ankle knock.
Low does not have the luxury of a settled back four and is also low on options up front with only two recognised strikers in his squad.
Miroslav Klose, who turns 36 next month, has missed large chunks of the season with Lazio, and Hoffenheim's 21-year-old Kevin Volland is inexperienced, but Low could also convert one of his midfield stars into a 'False Nine'.
Traditionally, Germany have boasted strong leaders - characters such as Stefan Effenberg, Michael Ballack or Oliver Kahn.
But both Lahm and Schweinsteiger have been criticised for their lack of leadership when things go wrong - namely in the Euro 2012 semi-final defeat to Italy and the 2010 World Cup defeat to Spain for a place in the final.
"Germany have a superior team - and that's the problem," according to Ghana midfielder Boateng.
"Germany are feeling the pressure to be world champions, but they don't have the characters and types of player to deal with that in Brazil, someone like an Effenberg or a Ballack.
"When the pressure comes on, they (Germany) don't pull through."
In the pressure-cooker cauldron of the opening Group G match against Portugal on June 16, Low will discover what his young side is made of.
Five to watch:
Bastian Schweinsteiger, midfielder (Bayern Munich); Age 29; 101 caps. Germany's talismanic midfield general embodies the precision and delibrateness of German football. Notched three assists in South Africa in seven games and was one of the 10 nominees for the tournament's Golden Ball award. Earned his 100th cap for Germany during 2014 World Cup qualifying in a match against Sweden.
Philipp Lahm, defender (Bayern Munich); Age 30; 105 caps. Germany's diminutive (5ft 7ins) captain can be both stout in defence and creative in attack, sometimes even playing up as a defensive midfielder. Playing in his third World Cup and second as captain after he became his country's youngest-ever skipper when Michael Ballack bowed out of South Africa.
Mesut Ozil, midfielder (Arsenal); Age 25; 53 caps. His creation skills and knack for the occasional goal made him the target of Arsene Wenger's record £42.5 million (Dh261.5m) transfer from Real Madrid. Showed scintillating form upon arrival in London, but finished the season with up-and-down form for the Premier League club. Like Schweinsteiger, was a Golden Ball nominee in 2010 after he scored one goal and assisted on three others. Has the skill and pace to be a game-changer for the Germans.
Thomas Muller, midfielder (Bayern Munich); Age 24; 47 caps. Made the final Germany squad in 2010 when he was only 20 and offers Low one of the most diverse skill-sets in the German squad at his disposal. He can play up front as a forward or attack from midfield, where he has scored 16 times for Germany internationally and registered 13 Bundesliga goals for a successive season at Bayern this year. As technically sound and gifted a passer as anyone in the German squad and could be a future captain.
Mario Gotze, attacking midfielder (Bayern Munich); Age 21; 27 caps. Another of Germany's already-experienced young talents, having played his first senior match in 2010 and earning time at Euro 2012 despite being just a teenager. Most likely player to get shifted into forward should Low eschew Klose or Volland as a true striker. Scored his first international goal against 2014 World Cup hosts Brazil.
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