Joachim Loew has today revealed his initial 27-man selection, tasked with propelling the side one step further than their semi-final disappointment at the hands of Spain in South Africa two years ago. Praised for their trust and confidence in the ability of youth, often pitted against the more experienced yet less-dynamic squads of other nations, Loew and the Deutscher Fußball-Bund (DFB) have again turned to their younger representatives to bring them their first major tournament success since their third European Championships title at Euro ’96.
The squad, to be trimmed from a 27-man offering to the tournament-permitted 23 by 29 May, is as follows;
Goalkeepers: Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich), Tim Wiese (Werder Bremen), Ron Robert Zieler (Hannover), Marc-Andre ter Stegen (Borussia Moenchengladbach)
Defenders: Holger Badstuber, Jerome Boateng, Philipp Lahm (all Bayern Munich), Benedikt Hoewedes (Schalke), Mats Hummels, Marcel Schmelzer (both Borussia Dortmund), Per Mertesacker (Arsenal)
Midfielders: Sven Bender, Mario Gotze, Ilkay Gundogan (all Borussia Dortmund), Lars Bender, Andre Schuerrle (both Bayer Leverkusen), Julian Draxler (Schalke), Toni Kroos, Thomas Mueller, Bastian Schweinsteiger (all Bayern Munich), Sami Khedira, Mesut Ozil (both Real Madrid), Marco Reus (Borussia Moenchengladbach)
Forwards: Lukas Podolski (Cologne), Cacau (Stuttgart), Mario Gomez (Bayern Munich), Miroslav Klose (Lazio)
With an average age of just 24, it would appear that the likes of Mesut Ozil, Holger Badstuber, Manuel Neuer to name but a few, have now made the transition from the naive yet fearless bravado of youthful excitement to the more measured and reliable qualities of true internationals. That is, however, not to say that their blend of flair and cultured study of the European formula for success akin to the modern game has been sacrificed in the slightest. Rather, the respective semi-final and final-worthy Champions League runs of the three’s domestic clubs, and their first-team duties in each are testament to their development as footballers in the two years since Carles Puyol’s flying header eliminated them in Durban.
Reading through the squad-list, the inclusions of the uncapped duo of Schalke’s Julian Draxler and Mönchengladbach’s Marc-André ter Stegen flag up a degree of interest and intrigue as to their chances of making the final cut, and potential involvement in the tournament itself. Yet my pick of the squad is a man who, at just 22 years of age, will have the experience of a Champions League final under his belt come the 8th of June.
That man is Bayern Munich’s Toni Kroos. In my period of abstinence of following the Bundesliga around the time of his emergence in to the Bayern first-team, I found myself questioning the state of Bayern’s affairs from time to time. Wondering what kind of crisis situation they sound themselves in that seemed to be forcing them in to the premature exposure of what was, to the unknowing eye, an unpolished 20-year-old had been thrown in to a side historically challenging on several fronts, season in, season out.
My jump to this conclusion was, by all accounts at the time, an incorrect one, but were there any doubts remaining even then, his 2011/12 campaign has well and truly quashed them. Watching him with continued interest in both domestic and European games this season, his maturity and adaptability are what impressed me most. With manager Jupp Heynckes willingly shifting him from a more deep-lying role alongside Bastian Schweinsteiger, or, when circumstances dictate, giving him the freedom to roam further forward and conduct play just behind the forwards, it is clear that Kroos’ footballing ability is nothing if not well-rounded.
With a good engine essential to the modern central midfield position, he is rarely in a position of sacrifice in favour of more attacking options on the bench, for instance, testament to his consistency and constant stranglehold over matters warring in the centre of the pitch. Throw in 7 goals and 15 assists this season on top of last year’s 2 goals and 5 assists in his breakout season with the Bavarian giants, and perhaps this summer’s European Championships will be the perfect platform for the young man from Greifswald to show the rest of Europe, and indeed the World what he is capable of.
With Kroos and an ensemble cast of the core of Bayern’s Champions League-final squad, and a smattering of Ozil, Khedira, Hummels and the wily Miroslav Klose among others, Germany are sure to mount a serious bid to rival co-favourites Spain and the Netherlands for this year’s Euro crown.