Having kicked off their campaign, Germany now face a crunch match and an adventure

The first two rounds of, in Joachim Löw’s own words, the “marathon” have been safely mastered. Fourteen matches and 22 months lie ahead of the “Deutschen Fußball Bund” (German Football Association - DFB) team’s next major target. The 1-0 win against Belgium in Brussels on 3 September and the 6-1 (3-0) against Azerbaijan in Cologne on 7 September were just the first two stages for the FIFA World Cup 2010™ semifinalists on the road to the final of the European Championships in Kiev on 1 July 2012. After completing a comfortable but rather lacklustre win in their first competitive match since the exciting performances in South Africa, Germany’s Miroslav Klose ventured an optimistic view of the future. “I want to go right to the top,” said the prolific goal scorer. “It’s the best place to be.” Four days later in the 6-1 win against Azerbaijan, national coach Löw’s crew again displayed the attractive attacking game with which they had shone at the FIFA World Cup.

Miroslav Klose is one of Germany’s most successful international players. The cap he won in the 6-1 against Azerbaijan was his 103rd – the same number as Franz Beckenbauer. (photo: GES/Augenklick)

Klose scored three goals in the two games to increase his tally to 55 in 103 internationals. The 32 year old appears likely to, by the 2012 European Championships in Poland, the country of his birth, and the Ukraine at the latest, go on and break a whole series of goal-scoring records. But the Euro 2008 runners-up face further tests along the qualifying trail. Next up on 8 October (kick-off 20.45 local time) is arguably the top game in Group A when Germany play host to Turkey in Berlin. The Turks also won their opening games in Kazakhstan (3-0) and at home against Belgium (3-2). The winner of the game will obviously be well-positioned for the complicated situation whereby, as in the World Cup qualifying competition, the group winner qualifies automatically and the second placed team go into the play-offs.

After the big game against Turkey, who are now managed by the highly successful Dutch coach Guus Hiddink, the German team will then embark on a little adventure. The next match will be played far off in the east as they will face the former USSR republic of Kazakhstan which was a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States after the break-up of the Soviet Union. In the meantime, Kazakhstan is now sovereign state that, whilst lying primarily in Asia, is a member of the European Football Union (UEFA).

The match will be staged 4,500 km from Berlin in the capital, Astana. A very modern city with a multitude of new buildings, it reminds one of Dubai. The kick-off time is also a little unusual in the fact that the encounter is due to start at 23.00 hours local time. This relates to 19.00 hours Central European Summer Time (CEST) which means German viewers will be able to watch the fourth European Championships qualifying match at a normal time of day. The match, like the one in Berlin against Turkey, will be televised by the “Zweite Deutsche Fernsehen” (ZDF) channel. Kazakhstan are, like Azerbaijan, considered to be rank outsiders in the group. The 3-0 home defeat against Turkey was followed by a 2-0 loss against Austria in Salzburg.

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After the games in Brussels and Cologne, it was generally expected that the captain debate was going to dominate talk in the lead up to the matches in Berlin and Astana. Two days before the start of the European Championships qualifying competition, Löw finally rid himself of the vexed debate. Michael Ballack was to remain as the German skipper. The Leverkusen player was however still unavailable as a result of the after-effects of the injury he suffered when playing for Chelsea in FA Cup final against Portsmouth just before FIFA World Cup™. “He’s accepted that he hasn’t yet performed to a level that would warrant selection,” said Löw. Ballack’s rival Philipp Lahm captained, as he did in South Africa, the team against Belgium and Azerbaijan.

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Joachim Löw showing his agility at a German practice session in September. The national coach is still SC Freiberg’s all-time top scorer. (photo: GES/Augenklick)

People were speculating whether Ballack’s would be sufficiently fit in October for him to win back his regular place in the national team or whether Löw would continue with Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira in the defensive midfield roles.

Unlucky Ballack injured again – Lahm remains captain (for the time being)

The debate was ended on 11 September, a Saturday. Ballack’s spell of bad luck continued in Bayer Leverkusen’s 2-2 draw with Hannover 96 when he was again badly injured. In the English cup final, he was sidelined by a foul committed by the former Hertha Berlin player Kevin-Prince Boateng and then in Hanover he was forced to limp off the pitch after a challenge from Sergio Pinto. Ballack picked up a micro-fracture to his left shin. The Leverkusen player has announced he will be out of the game for six weeks. If Lahm stays injury-free he will again captain the team for the matches in Berlin and Astana.

Manuel Neuer standing in front of Rene Adler during practice in Cologne. The Schalke player has also moved ahead of the man from Leverkusen as the No. 1 choice in goal. (photo: GES/Augenklick)

Alongside Ballack, another Leverkusen player has also been restricted to a spectator’s role within the DFB team. Löw has also put an end to the goalkeeper debate that reopened after the friendly match in Denmark (2-2) in August. The answer, which suggested itself, to the question as to who was to be the first choice keeper was delivered by Löw at the start of September. Schalke’s Manuel Neuer was to continue as No. 1. “He had a good World Cup,” explained Löw. Rene Adler and Tim Wiese are on a par with each other as Neuer’s deputy. Löw said he didn’t want to specify a number two. Adler had been the regular goalkeeper up until the start of May when he injured himself and had to pull out of the World Cup where Neuer took over the position between the posts.