Among the many duties that fall to a country's national soccer team trainer, paring down the roster ahead of the World Cup is certainly among the most difficult. Crushing the international dreams of a young player is no fun; tears often flow.
This year, though, German trainer Joachim Löw was largely spared the task. Instead, a string of injuries decimated Löw's preferred midfield this spring to the point that on Tuesday, just hours before a FIFA deadline mandating that national teams be trimmed to 23 members, he only had to cut a single player.
After spending three weeks training with the national team, 23-year-old Andreas Beck, a defender who plays his club football for 1899 Hoffenheim, was sent home. "We told him that he should continue to feel like a member of the team," Löw said. "He is quite young and still has chances to become part of the national team one day."
Given the injury bug that has bitten Germany's team this year, however, it cannot be ruled out that Beck will get his chance in South Africa after all. Löw said that should yet another injury befall the team, Beck is first on the list of replacements.
Run of Injuries
In Germany's 76-year history of taking part in the World Cup, the team has never experienced such a long list of pre-tournament injuries. In January, midfielder Simon Rolfes went under the knife for a knee injury. In April, Löw's first choice as keeper, Rene Adler, snapped a rib.
Then, in May, the run of injuries became absurd. In quick succession, team captain Michael Ballack tore up his ankle in Britain's FA Cup final, his replacement Christian Träsch likewise injured an ankle at the national team training camp in Austria, and Träsch's replacement Heiko Westermann busted a bone in his foot during a weekend friendly against Hungary.
Now, Germany faces the prospect of travelling to South Africa with a patchwork midfield. International veteran Bastian Schweinsteiger has been tapped to take over Ballack's role as the anchor of the defensive midfield. But he will find himself flanked by the neophyte Sami Khedira, who has played just four games for the national team. It remains unclear who might come to their assistance.
Indeed, even though Joachim Löw (known as Jogi to the nation) pledged to open up the national team to a younger generation of players after Germany's third place finish four years ago, it seems unlikely that he planned to do it so radically and so quickly. The German squad in South Africa will include six players who played for the U-21 team last year -- four of them are likely to start.
"I would have expected that two or three of us would have made the jump to the World Cup team this year," Jerome Boateng, one of those who was promoted from the U-21 team, told the Süddeutsche Zeitung. "But so many?"
Just nine days before the tournament opens, the team's problems are weighing on the nation. It is not unusual, however, for the country to erupt in a cacophony of belly-aching pessimism and woe-is-us defeatism prior to major international tournaments -- only for Germany to "unexpectedly" march through to the late rounds. This year, instead of aiming criticism at the trainer and the players, the country has taken it a step further, blaming a "curse" for the rash of injuries.
Still, given their history of success at the World Cup, betting against the Germans is not a good idea. Since 1954, Germany has only failed to reach at least the quarterfinals a single time, in 1978. And despite the youth of this year's team, many of the new players are not foreign to success. The U-21 team won the European tournament last year.