The domestic season is over. The postmortems are done. It is now time to look forward to next month’s World Cup finals in Russia, with a look at the FC Bayern players who will be looking to lift the golden trophy for their respective nations.
Every four years, we are all affected by World Cup fever. I have been a World Cup addict since when I was in single figures, and nothing has changed. My running Schwarz und Weiß has only amplified this feeling, and before long I will be dedicating what should hopefully be more than a month of match reports, features and analysis on the Nationalmannschaft as they look to retain their crown in Russia.
We cannot start without looking at the Bayern players who have been picked for Jogi Löw’s German squad. At he time of writing, there are 27 players in the preliminary group, which will be trimmed down after two upcoming test friendlies against Austria and Saudi Arabia. All of the big names are there, with one slightly surprising inclusion and one massive omission. Of course, this is being viewed though red-tinted FC Bayern glasses.
The FC Bayern ‘keeper and 2014 World Cup winner would walk into any national team, and has been a mainstay for the Mannschaft since his debut in 2009. However, this season has seen the German number one out of action on the physio’s couch. He has not pulled on the Nationaltrikot since October 2010, and until recently there were serious doubts about his being included in the squad at all.
Neuer’s recovery seems to have come just in time, but there is still some room for doubt. The theory is that if he is fit, he will be the Nationaltrainer’s number one in Russia. If he is not, then it is likely that he will not be going at all. A simple case of alles oder nichts. At the moment, all is good.
Like Neuer, centre-back Boateng is also a World Cup winner and squad mainstay. He is also something of an injury risk. Boateng continues to work hard, but there will be always be a degree of doubt about his ability to see through an entire tournament as intense as the World Cup.
A fit Boateng will always be a first-choice pick. However, the coach may need to be careful in order to ensure that he remains in good shape.
Alongside Boateng, Mats Hummels is another first-choice pick. The FC Bayern central defensive partnership is not only highly experienced, but Jogi’s trusted go-to pairing. Hummels is also a member of the squad that triumphed in Brazil.
Like Boateng, Hummels too has had his fair share of injuries. However this seemed to be less of a problem as the season turned past the winter break. More of a problem has been his loss of concentration and focus, something that Jogi will surely look to fix.
The big central defender will surely start behind Boateng and Hummels, but should see some pitch time, even if off the bench. Having signed from TSG Hoffenheim last year, Süle has improved in leaps and bounds, and looks set to inherit the central defensive mantle once the old guard call time on their international careers.
This will be Süle’s first World Cup, but he is not new to major international tournaments. As well as being a member of last year’s FIFA Confederations Cup squad, he was also a member of the Olympic team that won the silver medal in Rio in 2016.
Arguably one of the biggest young German talents in the Bayern team, Kimmich has made the transition to international football with ease. After cutting his teeth at the Euros in 2016, he is a permanent fixture in Jogi Löw’s selection plans.
Kimmich has been compared to former captain Philipp Lahm, but has the potential to be much better. He still needs to hone his defensive skills, but has the ability to slot in anywhere. He also has a fantastic eye for goal, showcasing his versatility.
The no-frills defensive midfielder has been on the Nationaltrainer’s radar for a couple of years, and was part of the winning Confed Cup squad. After making the move from Hoffenheim much was expected of Rudy in Munich, and he made a solid enough start only to find his way onto the bench for most of the Rückrunde.
Given his drop in form, it was something of a surprise to see Rudy’s name in the preliminary 27. It is now a matter of whether he makes the final cut. One thing is certain: if he does miss out, it will not be for any lack of effort.
No current German squad would be complete without Thomas Müller, who has been the golden boy during recent World Cup tournaments. With five goals in South Africa in 2010 and a matching tally in 2014, Der Raumdeuter currently sits in joint fourth place on the all-time German World Cup scorers list alongside 1954 winner Helmut Rahn. Should he match this figure in Russia, he will move to joint second on the all-time list, one behind former team mate Miroslav Klose.
There is a downside. Since 2014, Müller’s goalscoring form for both club and country has dropped badly. The past couple of seasons have not matched earlier achievements, but he still remains an integral part of the current German setup. Part of Müller’s charm is his adaptability and unpredictability, so do not be surprised if he decides to switch into top gear this summer.
While not quite breaking out into world class performances this season at Bayern, record signing Tolisso has been one of the more dependable players. His high work rate has impressed, as has his ability to score crucial goals.
This was enough to earn him a place in Laurent Blanc’s final 23, which means the combative defensive midfielder will definitely be heading to Russia this summer. Whether Tolisso gets a start in his first major international tournament is another issue, in a highly competitive French squad that is packed with talent.
No matter how indifferent Robert Lewandowski may have been in Bayern’s big matches, he will always be a fixture for Poland. For his country, his marksmanship has been outstanding. In ten World Cup qualifying matches, Lewy bagged sixteen goals, claiming the all-time record in qualifying tournaments from Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo.
The Poland captain will be looking to maintain this goalscoring form in Russia, and is a good bet to be among the tournament’s top marksmen if the Poles make it through into the latter stages. This is Lewandowski’s first World Cup, having missed out on qualifying in 2014.
It has not been the best of domestic seasons for Thiago, who has blown hot and cold for Bayern. For every stellar performance, a duff one has usually followed. Nevertheless, his form was decent enough for Spanish coach Julen Lopetegui to name him his his final squad.
Touted as a future international superstar following his move to Munich, things have not quite gone to plan due to injuries and dips in form. In what is his first World Cup, Thiago will be looking to cement his place as a regular member as the 2010 winners look to regain their title.
One of the players of the season after his loan move from Real Madrid in the summer of 2016, James Rodríguez has been a talisman for his country. The Colombian skipper burst onto the international stage at the World Cup in 2014 in style, finishing as the tournament’s top scorer with six goals. He found the net in five successive games, with his spectacular volley against Uruguay in the second round voted as the goal of tournament.
The Colombian had arrived in Munich as one of Carlo Ancelotti’s loan picks, and was quickly expected to follow the Italian out of the exit door. But this never happened. Nurtured by Jupp Heynckes, James quickly became of of Bayern’s most important players. He is a match-winner, and will be looking to continue his excellent form in Russia.
Omissions and Losses
This is not just the story of those who will be playing in Russia this summer, but also those who will not. For some, their countries didn’t make it. For others, it was all down to the vagaries of squad selection. While Die Roten will be well represented in Russia, there are those who will be watching the tournament at home.
From an FC Bayern perspective, Wagner was one of the biggest names to miss out. After his move from Hoffenheim in the winter, the big striker had done everything asked of him. With eight goals from 14 matches and four assists, he looked nailed on to make the finals. He had been part of the winning German Confed Cup squad, with a record of five goals in eight matches. As well as being a massive disappointment for Wagner himself, it was a major disappointment for many Bayern fans.
Javi Martínez had always been on the fringes of the Spanish squad, but was not part of Julen Lopetegui’s plans for 2018. What makes this slightly surprising is that he had reestablished his place in the starting lineup for Bayern, claiming back his favourite spot in the defensive backbone. Javi’s omission is a little strange, but good news for Bayern fans.
Having started well in Munich, Bernat had made his way into the Spain squad. It was all downhill after that. Any Bayern fan can give you a number of reasons why the diminutive left-back will not be in Russia.
The closest the little Brazilian winger would get to a World Cup was in 2014, when he was selected as a stand-by. Since then he has made two international appearances, but was never really in the running to make Tite’s final squad.
Young winger Coman had been part of France’s Euro 2016 squad, and had been touted as a sure-fire pick for the World Cup. That was, however, before his injury at the end of February. The player was able to get some game time for Bayern right at the end of the season, but it was not quite enough to earn him a place in Blanc’s final 23 – though he has been placed on the stand-by list.
Having played in last year’s Confed Cup final against a number of his Bayern team mates, the Chilean warrior had hoped to round off his international career in Russia. However, it was not to be. Chile failed to make it past the qualifying stages, finishing in sixth place.
Like Vidal, the mercurial Dutch winger had been looking to sign off with the Oranje in Russia. Sadly, the Dutch team are nowhere near the standard of previous ones. Finishing third behind France and Sweden, they failed to even make it into the UEFA qualifying playoffs.
After missing out on the World Cup in 2014, David Alaba and an improving Austria made the finals of the Euros in 2016. The outcome was disappointing, but hopes were high ahead of the Russia 2018 campaign. Cue a dismal fourth-place finish in the qualifiers behind Serbia, the Republic of Ireland and Wales. Alaba will still be young enough to give it another crack, but may join the likes of George Best and Ryan Giggs in being one of the most talented players to never play in a World Cup finals.
Bayern’s remaining international, Franck Ribéry, retired from international football in 2014.