Germany and Italy renew acquaintances at the Weserstadion on Wednesday – scene of the Azzurri's 2006 FIFA World Cup semi-final win against the hosts – with five youngsters from Bundesliga leaders Borussia Dortmund vying to feature in front of their home fans.
Such is the richness of Joachim Löw's options, the Germany coach has opted to delay the return of the formerly talismanic Michael Ballack to the international fold. Dortmund's standout domestic form has earned them a 12-point lead in the German top flight, prompting Löw to call up Mario Götze (18), Marcel Schmelzer (23), Sven Bender (21), Kevin Grosskreutz (22) and Mats Hummels (22).
Götze has failed to feature in only one of Dortmund's league games this term and was rewarded for a series of promising displays with an international bow in the 0-0 friendly draw against Sweden in November. A late substitute that day, a first senior international start could now be on the cards in familiar territory.
"Götze is a very intelligent player," said Löw. "When he trained with us for just one day ahead of the Sweden match, it felt to me like he'd already been part of the team for six or seven years. I think everyone can see how much potential he has."
Dortmund's tilt at a first title in nine years was dealt a minor blow on Friday, with Götze denied by a post and the heroics of FC Schalke 04 keeper Manuel Neuer in a goalless home draw. They remain on track, however, thanks to a clutch of players who, in Löw's mind, will benefit the national team for years to come.
It is important for us to integrate these young players against good teams like Italy," the coach added. "Marcel Schmelzer is a candidate for the left-back position, where we've been searching for a solution for years, and Sven Bender has impressed me with outstanding qualities in dispossessing opponents. Then we have Grosskreutz, who is already a team leader, and Hummels who is getting stronger every week." Exciting times indeed.
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