** Germany have triumphed at the FIFA World Cup on four occasions and head for the 2022 finals in Qatar determined to erase memories of the group stage elimination in Russia four years ago. Coach Hansi Flick will reach into the powerful depths of the Bundesliga for the nucleus of a squad refashioned since his appointment last year.

Die Mannschaft’s proud World Cup record also includes the status of both runners-up and third place on four occasions. They had reached the semi-finals on their World Cup debut in 1934 in Italy then a first victory in 1954 as West Germany. Legendary coach Sepp Herberger steered his outsiders to a 3-2 victory over favourites Hungary in the so-called Wunder von Bern (Wonder of Bern). Victory secured legendary status for stars such as brothers Fritz and Ottmar Walter and goal-scoring match-winner Helmut Rahn.

From then on the German national team continued to grow in stature. They were semi-finalists in 1958, quarter-finalists in 1962 and runners-up in 1966 when a team captained by Uwe Seeler and featuring a new talent in Franz Beckenbauer lost 4-2 to hosts England after extra-time.

The mid-1970s belonged to the Germans at both national team and club level. Beckenbauer’s FC Bayern Munich won a hat-trick of UEFA European Champions Cups in 1974, 1975 and 1976 and provided the nucleus of the national side who won the FIFA World Cup in 1974 as well as the UEFA European Championship in 1972 and 1980.

Beckenbauer revolutionised the sweeper’s role into one of attack as well as defence while Gerd Müller scored 68 goals in 62 internationals. Later heroes included Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Lothar Matthaus, Rudi Voller, Jurgen Klinsmann, Thomas Hassler and Matthias Sammer.

A third World Cup success was achieved through a 1-0 victory over Argentina in Italy in 1990. Beckenbauer was now team manager, the second man after Brazil’s Mario Zagallo to have won as both player and boss. German reunification later that year provided extra new resources which led on to victory at UEFA Euro 96. That was the Germans’ last senior title until 2014 in Brazil when a last-minute strike from Mario Gotze in extra time defeated Argentina in the FIFA World Cup final in Maracana.

Coach now was Joachim Low who had succeeded Klinsmann after the third-place finish as hosts in 2006. His key men included goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, versatile Philipp Lahm, playmaker Toni Kroos and free-scoring Miroslav Klose. Low’s reign also saw Germany end as UEFA EURO runners-up in 2008 and reach two further semi-finals. He then launched Germany on the road to Qatar in the spring of 2021 before stepping down after the European finals which had been postponed a year because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Germany had been drawn in European Group J and ended up with a commanding nine-point advantage over North Macedonia. They won nine of their 10 matches, scoring 36 goals and conceding only four for a resonant goal difference of +32.

The journey began positively with victories over Iceland and Romania before a surprising 2-1 home defeat in Duisburg to North Macedonia. That was Low’s last World Cup involvement. His focus then switched to the rescheduled European Championship finals before Flick took up the baton to revive the World Cup qualifying adventure in the autumn. Flick’s team never put a foot wrong with a succession of victories over Liechtenstein (twice), Armenia (twice), Iceland, Romania and North Macedonia. The 4-0 victory over North Macedonia saw Germany become the first nation to secure qualification to join hosts Qatar at the finals.

Serge Gnabry, İlkay Gündoğan and Timo Werner were the group’s five-goal joint top scorers. A further four goals were contributed by Leroy Sané.

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ONES TO WATCH

JOSHUA KIMMICH

BORN: 8 February, 1995

CLUB: FC Bayern Munich

** Kimmich’s leadership qualities earned recognition as one of Europe’s most consistent  players of the past decade. He began in the youth section of VfB Stuttgart before making his name with RB Leipzig and transferring to Bayern Munich. Initially Kimmich was considered a rightback but his versatility soon saw him playing with equal confidence in midfield. In 2019-20 he led Bayern to success in the UEFA Champions League, German Bundesliga, cup and Supercup then the FIFA Club World Cup. Kimmich made his senior national team debut in the group stage of UEFA EURO 2016 and was named in the official Team of the Tournament.

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SERGE GNABRY

BORN 14 July 1995

CLUB FC Bayern Munich

Gnabry made a sensational international impact with a hat-trick in an 8-0 win over San Marino in November 2016 in a 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier. Three months earlier he had been six-goal joint top scorer as Germany claimed a silver medal at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Gnabry, born in Stuttgart, took his first senior steps in club football in England with Arsenal. He spent a year on loan with West Bromwich Albion before returning to Germany with Werder Bremen, Hoffenheim and Bayern Munich. In 2019-20 Gnabry scored 23 goals as Bayern landed the treble of UEFA Champions League, Bundesliga and German Cup.

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COACH

Hansi Flick

Flick, born on 24 February, 1965, succeeded Joachim Low in charge of Germany in the summer of 2021. Previously the former Bayern Munich midfielder had been a member of the national team’s coaching staff between  2006 and the World Cup win in 2014 after which he became the DFB’s sporting director. He returned to club football as coach of Bayern in the autumn of 2019 and guided them to success in the UEFA Champions League and Super Cup, German league, cup and Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup. Between February and September 2020 ‘his’ Bayern won a German record 23 successive matches.