By Oliver Trust
BERLIN, June 6 (Xinhua) -- A year ago, German football seemed to be racing toward a bright and promising future. What was basically a team of youngsters had won the Confederation Cup in Russia only three years after the older generation won the World Cup in Brazil.
These young players seemed ready to challenge the established forces. German coach Joachim Loew seemed to have solved his biggest problem - how to instill a new sense of hunger amongst his World Cup winners.
12-months later, the 58-year-old has had to admit that his 2014 heroes will have to do the job again. The strategy of combining youth and experience didn't pay off to the extent that Loew had hoped.
The understudies have not yet reached the level needed to make the head coach's dream come true, namely to start a World Cup as world champions and finish it as world champions. The Confed Cup victory was a one-hit-wonder, at least when it comes to the development of Germany's talents.
Leroy Sane, shooting star of the 2017-18 Premier League season was left out the final 23-man squad. Ilkay Guendogan, a key performer for Manchester City, lacks quality on the international stage. Leon Goretzka (now at Bayern Munich) is far from being somebody that can control the midfield. Timo Werner (RB Leipzig) is 22 but is still too unreliable.
In 2018, Loew's hopes lie on the shoulders of the golden generation. The German squad has the highest average age that the team has had under Loew (27 years and 51 days).
This conclusion inevitably leads to the question: can the world champions develop enough energy to beat ambitious opponents like France, Spain, Brazil, and Argentina? It will be up to Manuel Neuer, Mats Hummels, Jerome Boateng, Sami Khedira, Thomas Mueller, Toni Kroos and Mesut Oezil to deliver success at the 2018 World Cup. Loew's strategy seems to be that strikers win games, defenders win championships.
Should his central defenders Hummels and Boateng get injured, the coach is well aware that both Niklas Suele and Antonio Ruediger lack the same quality. The reserves for Jonas Hector and Joshua Kimmich at left and right back (Marvin Plattenhardt and Sebastian Rudy/Matthias Ginter) aren't at the same level as the players they might have to end up replacing.
Germany doesn't seem to be a country capable of producing top class strikers. In 2018, Loew doesn't have an adequate solution on the right wing, let alone a competent long-sought-after replacement for the likes of Miroslav Klose.
If they are to win the tournament, it will require a team effort and nothing less. Since taking up office, creating a team with an unbeatable spirit has been Loew's most significant achievement. The strength of the group allowed surprise choices like Mario Goetze (who scored the winning goal in the 2014 final against Argentina) and Andre Schuerrle (whose assist lead to Goetze's goal) to step into the spotlight on the big stage.
Known for his speed, individuality and creativity at club level, Leroy Sane has been left out of the team because of doubts about his attitude when he wears the German jersey. Is this reason enough to be concerned? One of Loew's strengths is his so-called "gut feeling". He doesn't need scientific data to make decisions; sometimes it is pure instinct telling him what or who could prevent his players from developing into a true team.
More than individual quality, Loew counts on social skills and empathy. Germany doesn't have individuals that can decide games on their own like France's Antoine Griezmann, Argentina's Lionel Messi or Neymar for Brazil.
What Germany do have is the inspiring memory of 2014 and the efficiency and experience of four-time Champions League winner Toni Kroos and their strong midfield. Plus possible surprises like Marco Reus and Thomas Mueller.
The team around Loew will have to come to terms with their new role as one of the big favorites, like all previous title holders. Reaching the semifinals is the minimum fans will expect. Germany can win the 2018 World Cup if team spirit, determination and efficiency overcome the individual quality of the other favorites. If not, the 2014 world champions will have to wait until its young understudies like Sane and Werner move up to the next level.
This is the Germany's possible starting lineup: Neuer, Kimmich, Boateng, Hummels, Jonas Hector, Kroos, Khedira, Mueller, Oezil (Guendogan), Reus (Julian Draxler), Werner (Mario Gomez).