Defending Champ Germany Returns to World Cup Looking Like A Favorite Again

With enviable depth and a reloaded lineup, Germany is in position to become the first nation since Brazil in 1958 and 1962 to repeat as World Cup champions.
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Four long years have passed since Mario Götze's goal in extra time at the Maracanã ensured that Germany was crowned as world champions for the first time in 24 years, and it's finally time for Die Mannschaft to defend their title.

The four-time World Cup winners could become the first team to retain the coveted trophy since the historic Brazil side of the mid-20th century, who tasted success in both 1958 and 1962.

After a perfect record in qualifying, Germany is poised to make another run at the title. Here's a closer look at the reigning world champs and how they enter Russia.

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How They Qualified

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As far as a successful qualifying campaign goes, Germany has set the benchmark for how it's done with ruthless efficiency.

It six-team group on the road to Russia included European minnows San Marino as well as fellow outsiders Azerbaijan.

With Germany clear favorites to finish at the summit of the group, there was a three-way battle between Norway, Northern Ireland and the Czech Republic to take that last qualification spot for the playoff round.

Just six points separated all three after 10 games, with Northern Ireland doing just enough to make it in behind the reigning World Cup holders, although it was later knocked out by Switzerland in a playoff match.

Germany, meanwhile, coasted through the entire campaign with a perfect 10-0-0 record. Cricket score victories against Norway and San Marino also helped Die Mannschaft finish the campaign with 43 goals to their name - with top scorers Thomas Müller and Sandro Wagner notching five apiece.

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Group Stage Games

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Germany won't have an easy ride in the group stage, but Joachim Löw's side remains as Group F's resounding favorite to book a spot in the knockout round in first place.

Its campaign kicks off against Mexico, where fans of the Bundesliga can look forward to seeing a number of familiar faces on June 17.

The likes of Javier Hernández, Andrés Guardado, Marco Fabián and Carlos Salcedo all have experience in the German top flight, but Die Mannschaft would be wise to keep one eye on El Tri's golden boy, PSV breakout star Hirving 'Chucky' Lozano.

Next up for Germany will be a tough test against Sweden on June 23. The Swedes have had an impressive 68 players feature in the Bundesliga since its inception, with Emil Forsberg (RB Leipzig) and Ludwig Augustinsson (Werder Bremen) among others featured in their final World Cup squad.

Lastly for the reigning champions will be a test against South Korea on June 27. Danger man Heung-min Son will be hoping he can cause an upset when he lines up against some of his former teammates, having spent seven years in the Bundesliga with Hamburg and Bayer Leverkusen.

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Possible Route to the Final

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With there being a strong consensus that Germany will top Group F this summer, its route to the final at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow could be an uphill battle right from the outset.

A slip-up and a second-place finish from either Germany or Brazil could give the Seleção a chance at getting revenge following their 7-1 humiliation on home turf at the last World Cup in the last 16. But a more likely opponent in the last 16 for Germany would be one of either Switzerland, Costa Rica or Serbia.

A potential matchup against England could be a strong possibility in the quarterfinals (penalties, anyone?), while Belgium could also be in contention for that spot should it slip up in group play. Group H contenders Poland, Colombia and Senegal will have an outside chance of reaching that stage as well.

Moving into the semifinals, Germany could 2014 final against Argentina or a match against fellow European giant Spain, and just like that, Die Mannschaft would find themselves in another World Cup final, another stage where a rematch vs. Brazil or an all-European showdown vs. France could loom. 

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Squad

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Goalkeepers: Marc-Andre ter Stegen (Barcelona), Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich), Kevin Trapp (Paris Saint-Germain)

Defenders: Mats Hummels (Bayern Munich), Jerome Boateng (Bayern Munich), Joshua Kimmich (Bayern Munich), Jonas Hector (Cologne), Antonio Ruediger (Chelsea), Niklas Suele (Bayern Munich), Marvin Plattenhardt (Hertha Berlin), Matthias Ginter (Borussia Monchengladbach)

Midfielders: Toni Kroos (Real Madrid), Thomas Mueller (Bayern Munich), Marco Reus (Borussia Dortmund), Sami Khedira (Juventus), Mesut Ozil (Arsenal), Julian Draxler (Paris Saint-Germain), Ilkay Gundogan (Manchester City), Leon Goretzka (Schalke), Sebastian Rudy (Bayern Munich), Julian Brandt (Bayer Leverkusen)

Forwards: Mario Gomez (Stuttgart), Timo Werner (Leipzig)

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Predicted Lineup

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Joachim Löw experimented a fair bit during the qualifying phase, with forgotten man Götze his most capped forward during the initial stages on the road to Russia. But with Götze not in attendance this summer, along with stunning omission Leroy Sane, Sandro Wagner and Lars Stindl, Löw will have to explore all his options ahead of the opening day.

The manger is, however, likely to stick with his popular formation that was on display throughout qualifying.

(4-2-3-1): Ter Stegen; Kimmich, Boateng, Hummels, Hector; Kroos, Khedira; Müller, Özil, Reus; Werner.

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Outlook

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There is little question that Germany is at least among the favorites to lift the World Cup this summer. The reigning champions displayed their incredible ability throughout qualifying, and they breezed through the Confederations Cup to win with their B-team.

The likes of France, Spain and Brazil are also among the favorites to win the competition, and although Germany has the chance to make history by retaining the World Cup there will be at least one, if not two equals on paper ready to wrest it away from them.