Munich - Germany has waited 4 years for this moment. And after their showing at the last World Cup, there are high expectations to win it this year in South Africa. And why not? The talent is there, the team is deep, and qualification matches were quite solid. However, looking closely at the German national team, underneath the tradition and talent, many cracks appear. And the Socceroos will look to take advantage this evening and shock the world.
The first crack appeared almost a year ago when possible starting goalkeeper Robert Enke committed suicide providing an emotional moment for the team and then raising question marks as to who would take over. Joachim Loew tabbed Rene Adler of Leverkusen as the replacement and he played great the whole season as he led his team to the top of the Bundesliga. But a late season injury forced Loew to make another tough decision and leave Adler home. Manuel Neuer of Schalke will be the starter but his lack of experience will be tested. He only has 5 caps coming in, compared to Oliver Kahn who had 45 caps going into Korea-Japan in 2002 and 33 caps for Jens Lehmann when Germany hosted in 2006. The backups, Tim Wiese of Bremen (2 caps) is shaky and always good for one major adventure per match, and Hans-Joerg Butt (3 caps) only came onto the team after his great season with FC Bayern.
The next drama for Loew came after the injury to captain and lynch pin of the midfield Michael Ballack. He will be missed, as the pressure on the world's stage may affect the young stars of Germany. Ballack's experience in the last two World Cups plus his time with FC Chelsea playing at the top level will be invaluable. It now falls to native Muenchener Philip Lahm, who is no pushover regarding his experience, but he's a quiet leader, perhaps better suited as deputy to Ballack. He did provide a tremendous goal in Euro 2008, so he has proven to be cool under pressure. Can he direct the squad over the constant hum of the Vuvuzelas and calm the nerves of the squad?
In my opinion, the key will be up front. Loew decided to keep Kevin "Home Alone" Kuranyi off the roster once again despite his 52 caps and 19 goals for his country and solid performance this year in the Bundesliga (18 goals for Schalke). Instead Loew decided to go with Mario Gomez (10 goals with Bayern, disappears in big moments ), Miroslav Klose (3 goals this season) and Cacau (3 goals in 8 caps). If Germany are to score, they hope Klose can regain his form that has led to his 48 goals for the "National Elf" and youngster Stefan Kiessling (21 goals for Leverkusen) can grow up in this tournament.
Aussies confident - I have spent the last week on Australian all-sports radio previewing the match (see podcast on the World Cup page), and each time I'm on, I can feel the confidence from Down Under. Their squad is basically the same one from 2006 that should have beaten eventual champion Italy if not for a questionable penalty awarded in the 95th minute. They are relatively healthy going in, however their star scorer Tim Cahill is a bit shaken up with a minor injury but will start. The team is led by coach Pim Verbeek, who was Guus Hiddink's understudy in 2006, and this stability led to an impressive qualification campaign. Germany may win the World Cup but the Socceroos will prove to be a tremendous first obstacle on that path to glory.