By Karolos Grohmann
BERLIN (Reuters) – There is only one thing on Germany’s mind going into the World Cup and that is to defend their title and become the first team in more than half a century to do so.
The Germans have lost just once in 23 games since their Euro 2016 semi-final defeat, cruising through the qualifiers with 10 wins in 10 matches and conceding just four goals in the process to advance to the World Cup.
Coach Joachim Loew also had the luxury of being able to field a second-string team at last year’s Confederations Cup and still come away with the title, further adding to an already deep German bench.
The coach, in charge for his third World Cup, has a pool of at least three dozen players to chose from before his Group F campaign against Mexico, Sweden and South Korea.
A core of 2014 World Cup winners, including Thomas Mueller, Mats Hummels, Jerome Boateng, Sami Khedira, Toni Kroos and Mesut Oezil, will form the team’s experienced backbone.
But not everyone’s starting spot is guaranteed, with world-class players such as Leroy Sane, Timo Werner, Julian Draxler, Ilkay Guendogan, Mario Goetze and Marco Reus among those battling for their places.
There are still some question marks regarding the fitness of World Cup-winning keeper Manuel Neuer, who missed the season due to a foot injury and only recently returned to training.
Loew’s other options at keeper are just as strong, with Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Kevin Trapp and Bernd Leno waiting in the wings.
Jerome Boateng’s potential absence after picking up an adductor muscle injury late in the season could pose problems as he had formed a strong partnership with Hummels in central defence.
Already ruled out are Lars Stindl, last year’s joint top scorer at the Confederations Cup, who damaged his ankle in a league game in late April, and the injured Serge Gnabry.
Loew should have no problem compensating for those absences with a wealth of talent waiting for their shot at what the Germany coach hopes will be their fifth world title to equal Brazil, who were also the last team to win back-to-back World Cups in 1958-62.
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)