Last Updated: Saturday, May 17, 2014, 11:04
Berlin: Germany head for the World Cup finals with the football-mad country desperate for a fourth title, but with defensive frailties, off-form players and injuries hampering the bid.
The Germans last lifted the World Cup in 1990 and after nearly eight years in charge, time is running out for coach Joachim Loew to win a major title before his contract expires in 2016.
Euro 2004 was the last time Germany failed to reach the last four of either a European Championships or a World Cup. But Loew has key problems to resolve if his team are to mount a prolonged challenge in Brazil, where they start in Group G against Portugal, Ghana and United States, now managed by his predecessor Jurgen Klinsmann.
Loew was asked to be Klinsmann`s assistant in charge of tactics and strategy at the 2006 World Cup after they met on a training course.
Having succeeded Klinsmann as head coach after the tournament, Loew steered Germany to the Euro 2008 final, then the 2010 World Cup semi-finals, where they swept aside England and Argentina before succumbing to eventual winners Spain.
Despite his impressive record of 70 wins in 103 internationals in charge, Loew himself admitted, "the clock is ticking" for the Germans.
The team is known for its powerful attack. But there is concern about who will play up front in his 4-2-3-1 formation.
First-choice striker Miroslav Klose is just one goal off equalling the record 15 World Cup goals set by Brazil`s Ronaldo, having scored five goals in 2002, five in 2006 and four in 2010.
But the 35-year-old is injury prone and with Mario Gomez having been left out of Loew`s extended provisional squad, 21-year-old Kevin Volland of Hoffenheim is the only other out-and-out striker in the squad.
Their defence, which has looked frail on occasion, needs to be better organised with only captain and right-back Philipp Lahm sure of his place in Loew`s back four.
And a big test Loew could face in Brazil will be when to drop any under-performing stars.
Either injury or a loss of form has affected certain players, none more so than Arsenal`s Mesut Ozil whose confidence has dipped sharply since he failed to convert a penalty against Bayern Munich in the Champions League.
"I have 100 percent faith in him (Ozil), he will find his form again," Loew has insisted, but the challenge will be when or if to bench the Gunners star if the dip continues.
Loew is also low on defensive midfield options to partner Bastian Schweinsteiger.
Real Madrid`s Sami Khedira is struggling with a knee injury while Borussia Dortmund`s Ilkay Gundogan has not played since August with a back injury and a virus. Both were named in his 30-man provisional squad though.
"I only want to say that some players need to improve their level of performance, mainly because they have been injured and not played much," Loew has said.
"In Brazil, we will face prevailing temperatures and different time zones, these will not be excuses."
While Loew has an embarrassment of midfield riches, his options are limited up front with veteran striker Miroslav Klose susceptible to injury, as is reserve Mario Gomez.
A third option needs to be ready before the opening group game against Portugal on June 16 or Bayern`s Mario Goetze could be used as a false nine, where he has played in friendlies.
Loew also needs to instill a clear Plan B for the occasions when his team`s original strategy fails to work.
Germany have looked decidedly average when teams attack them, as Sweden proved when they forced a 4-4 draw in Berlin in a World Cup qualifier in October 2012 having come back from 4-0 down.
Loew`s men also suffered the rare indignity of being booed by their own fans during a laboured 1-0 win over Chile this month where the South Americans dominated for long periods.
First Published: Saturday, May 17, 2014, 11:04