Germany must plug leaky defence ahead of World Cup
BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany may have displayed their attacking prowess in a 5-3 demolition of Sweden in their final World Cup qualifier on Tuesday but their hopes of ending an 18-year wait for international success hinge on the sealing of a porous defence.
The Germans conceded a staggering seven goals in their two qualifiers against second-placed Sweden, their toughest opponent in the group but arguably below the level of Germany's major rivals in Brazil next year.
Sweden twice caught the Germans, who had already qualified for the 2014 tournament ahead of the fixture, napping in the first half, exposing again their biggest weakness.
The Swedes had spectacularly rallied from 4-0 down to draw 4-4 in Berlin last year and threatened to match that tally in Stockholm, but once Germany got their impressive passing game up to speed, they quickly sliced open the home side's defence.
Coach Joachim Loew is spoilt for choice in midfield and attack with the likes of Marco Reus, Toni Kroos, Thomas Mueller, Mesut Ozil, Lukas Podolski, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Andre Schuerrle and Mario Goetze just some of the classy players he has at his disposal.
His frontline has also received a boost with the introduction of up-and-coming prospect Max Kruse, joining a strikeforce that includes Mario Gomez and Miroslav Klose.
With Ozil, Mueller and Goetze also able to seamlessly slip into a forward role, Loew's main concern is to craft an equally effective backline if he is to add a fourth World Cup to Germany's trophy cabinet.
"We know that we cannot make such mistakes but it does not always work that way," Loew said of his team's first half performance on Tuesday, in which they trailed 2-0 after 42 minutes.
"We need to improve certain things, including our defence," he added of a side that last won a major tournament at Euro 96 in England.
Central defenders Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels were caught out of position too often during Sweden's quick breaks and fellow defenders Per Mertesacker and Benedikt Hoewedes have been equally vulnerable to rapid attacks in the recent past.
To be fair, Germany were missing eight players through injury for their last two qualifiers against Ireland last week and Sweden, and a full-strength team is a far more daunting prospect for any opponent.
Undefeated in their last two qualifying campaigns for Euro 2012 and the World Cup, Germany have won 19 of 20 qualifiers in that period.
They scored 36 goals in their 10 World Cup qualifiers, more than any other team in the European zone, proof that in front of goal, Germany are more than a match for anyone.
"The need to improve our defence is not something that became clear just from this game," Loew admitted. "But we had a major overhaul in 2010... and since then, we have won 23 of 25 competitive games, with one draw and one defeat."
"Of course we want to improve defensively and it is something we will be working on," said Loew, who is rumoured to soon be signing a two-year contract extension to 2016.
For captain Philipp Lahm, who wants to match his club success at Bayern Munich with a trophy for the national team, there is still enough time before the World Cup to plug any holes.
"It is clear we want to concede fewer goals," he told reporters. "We still lack a bit of coordination (in the back). But we will have some weeks before the tournament to fine-tune our game and we will use that time very wisely." (Editing by John O'Brien)
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