Germany will be chasing a record-equalling fifth World Cup and in the process become the first team in 56 years—since Brazil in 1962—to successfully retain the prestigious trophy. To reach the summit in Russia, however, they will need to first overcome Mexico, Sweden, and South Korea in Group F.

Joachim Lowe has named his preliminary 27-man squad—which will be cut down to 23 before the tournament begins—and it has a notable omission in Mario Gotze. The Borussia Dortmund man, who scored the winning goal in a tense encounter against Argentina in the final four years ago, has since been in a steep decline and has fallen out of favour with the national setup.

There has been a significant churn of other personnel as well. One of the greatest modern full-backs, Philipp Lahm, has retired and the talismanic Bastian Schweinsteiger, whose bloodied face in the final against Argentina four years ago typified German resilience, has also since bid farewell to international duty.

Manuel Neuer, who missed almost the entirety of the last season due to a long-term injury, has since returned but questions about his match-readiness are up in the air.

These seemingly big changes notwithstanding, Germany have a strong squad and will be among the favourites to win it all in Russia.

Joshua Kimmich has taken Lahm’s place like a duck to water and is among best of young players in world football at the moment. While Marc-Andre ter Stegen has a legitimate shout as the best goalkeeper in the world on the back of his performances at Barcelona last season.

Bayern Munich centre-back pair Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng will reprise their role for the national team with Jonas Hector at left-back. The Germans have a stacked midfield with Sami Khedira, Toni Kroos, Mesut Ozil, Ilkay Gundogan, Julian Draxler, Leon Goretzka, and Julian Brandt among others to choose from.

Leroy Sane has had a hugely impressive season at Manchester City and will be the favourite to start on the left wing. If there is one chink in the reigning champions’ armour, it’s their lack of a quality striker.

Thomas Muller might be played through the centre but he is going to Russia after a lean spell at Bayern Munich and is at his best while playing off a No. 9, which could be one of the veteran Mario Gomez or the upstart Timo Werner.

The Germans will begin their title defence against Mexico. The North Americans have been remarkably consistent at the World Cups, reaching the round of 16 on every occasion since 1994 but never any further. They will fancy their chances for another knockout qualification in Russia, but going beyond will likely prove difficult again.

Guillermo Ochoa, who turned in some heroic performances in 2014, will be in goal with the centre-back pairing of Hector Moreno and Diego Reyes ahead of him, while Miguel Layun brings bags of experience at full-back.

Mexico’s Hector Herrera (centre) will be trusted to provide creativity and surging runs at the opposition defence. Photo: AFP
Mexico’s Hector Herrera (centre) will be trusted to provide creativity and surging runs at the opposition defence. Photo: AFP

Veteran Rafael Marquez, who has transitioned from a centre-back to a defensive midfielder, has made the preliminary squad but it remains to be seen if he makes the cut for Russia at the ripe age of 39. Captain Andres Guardado will be another experienced hand in midfield while Hector Herrera will be trusted to provide creativity and surging runs at the opposition defence.

Javier Hernandez will be the favoured striker hoping for Carlos Vela to feed him through balls as well as finish chances.

Mexico’s biggest threat for the runners-up spot in the group will be Sweden, who performed a giant killing act in the qualifiers by disposing of Italy. However, Janne Andersson’s feisty men aren’t expected to do a whole lot this summer.

RB Leipzig’s prized asset Emil Forsberg is the biggest name in the team and will be the creative fulcrum driving the team forward. He will look to feed the front two of Ola Toivonen and Marcus Berg with his searching balls, and will also not be averse to having a go himself from his nominal left midfield position.

In Ludwig Augustinsson, Andreas Granqvist, Victor Lindelof, and Mikael Lustig, Sweden have an established back four which will be protected by a double pivot comprising of Sebastian Larsson and Jakob Johansson.

South Korea have become regular Asian representatives at the World Cup since 2002, when they finished fourth in their home tournament. But such a run is rather unlikely in Russia.

Son Heung-min is the biggest name in the side and has performed remarkably well at Tottenham Hotspur since joining them in 2015. He will be the creative outlet as well as goal-scoring threat from the left wing.

Son Heung-min will be the creative outlet as well as a goal-scoring threat for South Korea. Photo: Reuters
Son Heung-min will be the creative outlet as well as a goal-scoring threat for South Korea. Photo: Reuters

Swansea City’s Ki Sung-yueng, Crystal Palace’s Lee Chung-yong, and Augsburg’s Koo Ja-cheol are other players in top European leagues. The latter will be playing in attacking midfield and is a goal threat.

Germany will be the team to beat in Group F while South Korea will try to spoil the party for Mexico and Sweden in their attempts to follow the Germans to the round of 16.

For analysis of the other 2018 FIFA World Cup groups, click here.

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