Germany’s rising stars Thomas Mueller and Holger Badstuber both admit they sometimes have to pinch themselves to make sure their path to the World Cup is not just a dream.
In the space of a year, the pair have gone from Bayern Munich’s reserves to the brink of World Cup glory.
Both played a significant role in German league and cup double winners Bayern reaching the Champions League final this season and refer to the last 12 months by using words like “mad”, “crazy” and “amazing”.
“If I was to rub my eyes in disbelief, I'd get an infection,” said Mueller.
“I try not to think about everything that's happened. I never thought it would happen like this. It's every boy's dream. I'm not sure I'll make sense of it all for another two or three years.”
Both have earned their place in the national set-up and were confirmed among Germany's final 23-man squad.
In his first season, attacking midfielder Mueller, 20, played in all 34 Bundesliga games, scored 13 league goals and created 10. He finished with 19 goals in all competitions for Bayern and made his Germany debut in March against Argentina in the 1-0 defeat.
Badstuber missed just one league match all season and was at the heart of Bayern's defence.
“When you look back to where we were a year ago, it's been a lot of fun,” said Badstuber who came off the bench to win his first cap in the 3-0 win against Hungary in Budapest last Saturday in a World Cup friendly.
Plucked from the reserves by Bayern coach Louis van Gaal at the start of the season, Mueller will only turn 21 in September, but has already played in a Champions League final.
“I see it more as an advantage that we played the final, it shows we have certain qualities and reached a certain level,” he said.
Mueller is set to play in attack behind the strikers in South Africa, while Badstuber is likely to be used as cover at leftback, but is the only left-footed player amongst the centrebacks.
After the withdrawal of both captain Michael Ballack and fellow midfielder Christian Traesch, Mueller came close to being the third German casualty when he tumbled from his mountain bike last Wednesday.
Sporting stitches and cuts across his chin, the youngster said a buckled bike was hardly going to ruin his World Cup dream.
“We just want to have fun and help Germany play well at the World Cup,” he said.
Loew confident ahead of WC odyssey
Coach Joachim Loew said his German side will travel to South Africa in a positive mood after an impressive 3-1 win over Bosnia-Herzegovina on Thursday in their final WC dress rehearsal.
Even after losing Michael Ballack, midfielder Christian Traesch and defender Heiko Westermann all through injuries, Loew said he is happy with his squad.
“We went up a gear in the second-half,” admitted Loew.
“It was great how the team increased the pace, we have great potential and have all worked very hard, but we also have a great deal of hard work ahead of us.
“We have a good team, we are in a good mood and we know we can play well in this tournament. I have complete confidence.”
Having beaten Malta and Hungary 3-0 in warm-up games, captain Phillip Lahm said their is still room for improvement.
“I am unhappy we didn't keep a clean sheet,” he said. “We struggled to create goals, but luckily we worked things out.”
“I look forward to the World Cup, we are in a good mood, have trained well and are fit,” Lahm said.
Always in the fray
Germans and their winning ways in the World Cup:
- Have been winners of the World Cup three times — 1954, 1974 and 1990
- The team have also been runners-up at World Cup four times as well as semifinalists a record 11 times.
- They have won the European Championship thrice besides ending up runners-up thrice as well.
- Manager Joachim Loew has the higest winning percentage of any previous national team coach; 69 per cent.
- It is also the only nation to have won both the men’s and women’s football World Cups.
- FIFA ranks Germany in sixth place but their scintillating qualifying
performance of eight wins and two draws maybe a sign of things to come.