Germany break with tradition against Kazakhstan
BERLIN (Reuters) - Whether it was Gerd Mueller, Rudi Voeller or Miroslav Klose, Germany have never had a shortage of gifted strikers but when they take on Kazakhstan in their World Cup qualifier on Friday there could be none in their lineup.
Germany, top of 2014 World Cup qualifying Group C on 10 points from four games, will be looking to get all three points in Astana and will most likely try to do it without a designated forward.
With their last trophy dating back to 1996, the three-times world and European champions are eager to mould a team that can challenge for the biggest crown of all in Brazil next year and coach Joachim Loew is ready to try everything.
In what is likely to be the latest shift from the traditional German style of play, Loew could deploy "a fake nine" as a centre forward with offensive midfielder Mario Goetze looking set to start ahead of forward Mario Gomez.
Gone are the days of physical play and rock-solid defences; Loew has reinvented Germany as a lightning-quick, young team, more eager to score four goals and let in three than keep a clean sheet at all costs.
"I have been toying for some time with the idea that players could take turns playing as forwards," Loew told reporters. "It does not always have to be a big, physical centre forward but smaller, more agile players who can find the right solutions in tight spaces and cause problems for the sometimes slower defenders."
With Spain setting the standard for such a style of play when they cruised to the Euro 2012 title without an out-and-out striker, Loew is eager to try it out as German fans are getting desperate for success.
The trip to Astana could be a good opportunity to wean the Germans off their strikers with the pace likely to be quick on the artificial pitch. With Klose out injured and Gomez the only real striker option, Loew looks set to adapt their play.
Loew will also have holding midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger back to orchestrate their game and a so-called fake nine, falling back in midfield while also acting as a lone forward, could be exactly the connection they need to link their play.
The Germans will be looking to get the full six points from lowly Kazakhstan in their two games on March 22 and 26 to maintain their three-point advantage over second-placed Sweden, who have played a game less.
For Kazakh coach Miroslav Beranek the question will not be how to score goals so much as how to seal their porous backline.
Kazakhstan, in fifth place with one point from four games, have let in an average two goals per game in the campaign and look set to throw bodies into defence on Friday while waiting for a quick break to sting the Germans.
Kazakh midfielder Marat Khairullin admitted: "The match won't be easy and its likely the Germans will have most of the possession and we will have to rely on counter-attacks."
He said the fact that the match was kicking off at midnight Astana time - mid-evening in central Europe - would help the visitors who have been going to bed at dawn and training at midnight in preparation for the game.
"We will have to go to bed later to adapt too," Khairullin added.
Midfielder Heinrich Schmidtgal, an ethnic German from Kazakhstan who plays for Greuther Furth in the Bundesliga, has fully recovered from an injury and is expected to play.
Germany: Manuel Neuer; Philipp Lahm, Benedikt Hoewedes, Per Mertesacker, Marcel Schmelzer; Bastian Schweinsteiger, Sami Khedira, Mesut Oezil, Mario Goetze, Thomas Mueller, Marco Reus. (Additional reporting by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Clare Fallon)
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