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World Cup 2018 team preview: Reasons to doubt Germany's repeat potential?

For more analysis, lineup projections and predictions, head to our World Cup preview hub, bookmark it, and return as all 32 team previews and eight group previews roll in.

Outlook
Odds to win Group F: 76.7%
Odds to advance: 93.8%
Odds to win World Cup: 18.2%
Elo rank: 2
Yahoo Sports power rank: 1

Our writers say: The reigning title holders have the requisite swagger and as deep a squad as any in the 32-team field – even if they might not have their best player from 2014, goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, who only recently resumed training following a long injury layoff. No matter. The Cup remains theirs to lose. — Doug McIntyre

(Odds via BetOnline, converted to percentages – and therefore slightly exaggerated)


The World Cup hasn’t had a repeat champion since 1962. Could Germany go back-to-back in 2018? (Getty)
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Basics
World Cup appearance: 19th (10 as West Germany)
Best World Cup finish: Champion (1954, 1974, 1990, 2014)
2014 finish: Champion
Qualifying: Topped UEFA Group C ahead of Northern Ireland, Czech Republic
Schedule: Mexico (Sunday, June 17, 11 a.m., FS1), Sweden (Saturday, June 23, 11 a.m., Fox), South Korea (Wednesday, June 27, 10 a.m., Fox/FS1)

Squad
Manager: Joachim Low
Captain: Manuel Neuer (G)
Top players: Toni Kroos (M), Mesut Ozil (M), Mats Hummels (D), Jerome Boateng (D), Thomas Muller (F), Joshua Kimmich (D), Neuer, Marc-Andre Ter Stegen (G), Leroy Sane (M)
Full 23-man (or preliminary) squad

Breakdown
Why they’ll win games: Well … do they do anything other than win games? Excluding a recent friendly loss to Brazil that featured primarily second-stringers, they haven’t lost since Euro 2016. They posted an obscene plus-39 goal differential in 10 qualifying wins. They still have Low, who in his 12th year on the job continues to amplify his case as one of the best international tacticians ever. They still have Kroos and Ozil and Muller and … yeah, you get the point. And perhaps most importantly, any player Low throws in the team knows Die Mannschaft‘s system by heart.

Why they’ll lose games: This might sound a bit hot-takey, but the tippity-top-end talent in this Germany team might not quite measure up to other contenders. How many German players would rank in the top five globally at their respective positions? Definitely Kimmich and Kroos. Maybe Hummels and Ozil. And more on the goalkeeping situation below. But there isn’t comprehensive brilliance throughout the squad – as many will have you believe. The likely left back is a 27-year-old who was relegated from the Bundesliga this year. The likely striker had a somewhat underwhelming club season, is still relatively unproven internationally, and doesn’t fit seamlessly into the system. The starting left-winger might be a PSG backup.

Look, we’re obviously nit-picking here. Germany is formidable. In all likelihood, it will win its first four games in Russia – at least. But you could make that same statement about three or four other teams. What happens when the Germans meet one of them? Do they have the dynamism? They’ve gone 0-3-1 in four recent friendlies against top-10 foes. That may mean nothing. … It also may mean something.

How they’ll play: Fluidly but mechanically, like 11 intricately programmed, sturdily built robots. More specifically, with Kroos next to a more active or robust player at the base of midfield, Ozil drifting between the lines, and Muller coming in off the right to seek out space. Timo Werner, assuming he starts up top, likes to run the channels. The left-sided attacker can be chosen based on the needs of a specific game. Sane is the direct option. Julian Draxler would prefer to interchange with Ozil or drop into midfield.

Projected lineup (4-2-3-1): Marc-Andre Ter Stegen; Joshua Kimmich, Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels, Jonas Hector; Toni Kroos, Ilkay Gundogan; Thomas Muller, Mesut Ozil, Leroy Sane; Timo Werner.

Sane’s spot in the above 11 is the most tenuous. It could easily go to Julian Draxler or even Marco Reus. Similarly, Gundogan vs. Sami Khedira is seemingly a 50/50 proposition in midfield next to Kroos. And there’s a slim chance of a defensive shakeup that either gets Niklas Sule in the team or replaces Hector, the team’s weakest link.

There’s also the goalkeeping situation, which is anything but straightforward. If Neuer is 100 percent fit and 100 percent himself, he’s a top-three keeper in the world and would start. But Ter Stegen, coming off his best season yet, might be top-five. So if Neuer is anything less than fully ready, the Barcelona backstop will probably get the call.

Rooting Guide
What makes them unique: Just how much talent do they have? Well, a B-minus team won the Confederations Cup last summer. And the two players who combined for the World Cup-winning goal four years ago, Andre Schurrle and Mario Gotze, didn’t even make the preliminary squad this time around.

Why to root for them: Because you appreciate and respect ruthless, unabashed dominance.

Why to root against them: Uh, because they’re the reigning champs? Should be pretty self-explanatory.

If you’re going to watch one game … The opener against Mexico looks tasty, and could be one of the best games of the group stage.

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