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Time for this group to cause a big sensation

FOUR years ago in South Africa all the talk was about Germany's potential.

Thomas Mueller and Sami Khedira are in their prime. Picture: Reuters
Thomas Mueller and Sami Khedira are in their prime. Picture: Reuters

Jogi Loew's young side had just blown away England 4-1 to reach the World Cup quarter-finals and there was a buzz of anticipation about how good they could possibly become if they were allowed to grow and mature together. Now that time of reckoning has arrived.

Germany, for a number of reasons, were not among the pre-tournament favourites ahead of these finals in Brazil. They had failed to unearth a striker capable of succeeding the 36 year-old Miroslav Klose, playmaker Mesut Oezil had just come off a disappointing season with Arsenal, there were question marks over the defence, and Marco Reus was a late withdrawal due to injury. Those were the negatives.

A Germany with flaws, however, is still a formidable proposition. Of the 11 that started in that famous victory over England in Bloemfontein in 2010, only the 35-year-old Arne Friedrich - retired from international football - was not involved in their 4-0 opening win over Portugal earlier this week.

Of the other 10, seven started, one - Lukas Podolski - came on as a substitute, and Klose and Bastian Schweinsteiger were unused replacements. Compare that with England who have only three survivors from the team that faced Germany in the last World Cup.

There is a continuity of selection about Loew's side that can only bode well the further they go in this tournament.

The lack of an in-form and reliable No.9 has not proved a problem so far. Klose, who recently overtook Gerd Mueller's record to become Germany's all-time top goalscorer, is on the cusp of retirement having mustered just eight goals for Lazio last year. Mario Gomez was left out after an injury-ravaged season with Fiorentina, while Hoffenheim's Kevin Volland was cut from the provisional squad. That leaves only Podolski as back-up striker, although it is a role he rarely plays these days.

Instead, Germany have looked to utilise their vast armoury of attacking midfield options. Mario Goetze had been used as a nominal striker in their warm-up games but against Portugal it was Mueller who was given the nod to start at the apex of Loew's modified 4-3-3 formation.

He did not disappoint. Mueller had scored twice in that win over England four years ago on his way to amassing five goals, making him joint-top scorer in that tournament. He went one better against Portugal, claiming a hat trick to serve notice that Germany would again be a force to be reckoned with. Mueller is not the most conventional of players - he has an almost clumsy, untidy manner - but his effectiveness cannot be denied. With Goetze and Oezil offering support from either flank, Toni Kroos offering another central threat, and Sami Khedira and Philipp Lahm offering double protection to that apparently shaky defence, it all came together for Germany as they tore Portugal apart. Little wonder that back home they were hailing Mueller-Mania.

"Thomas has the complete package," said namesake Hansi Mueller, the former Stuttgart, Internazionale and West Germany midfielder. "He can battle, he's good tactically, has good presence and a nose for goal. And his interviews are incomparable, the way he pokes fun at himself. Plus he's never injured. I've never seen before seen a phenomenon like him. His running style, admittedly, isn't the most elegant. Other players look a lot smoother. But his runs are effective. If he goes on to become the superstar of this World Cup then it couldn't happen to a nicer bloke."

Mueller, like many of his team-mates, seems to have been around forever yet is still only 24 years old.

They are a youthful bunch. Lahm, at 30, is the oldest of the regular starters, with the majority of the rest in the 25 to 29 years old bracket that is often considered to be a player's peak years.

Noticeably, there are no teenagers in the squad, perhaps a sign that Loew has complete faith in this group thus negating the need to start to think about the next batch.

There is always pressure on any German team to do well but the extended wait for a trophy has heightened that expectation.

They have not won anything since Berti Vogts led them to the 1996 European Championships, while the last time they were crowned world champions Luciano Pavarotti was warbling Nessun Dorma at Italia 90.

They were knocked out of the last World Cup at the semi-final stage by eventual winners Spain. That cannot happen this time. It might be Germany's year after all.

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