Mario Götze's omission no real surprise as Joachim Löw shows his hand
It's no secret that Germany have an embarrassment of riches. Despite the temptation to go with the man who scored the World Cup winner in 2014, Joachim Löw was left with little choice but to leave Mario Götze out.
As the names rolled across the screen at the announcement of Germany's 27-man provisional squad in Dortmund on Tuesday, the surprises were largely those of absence rather than selection.
Doubts over the fitness of Manuel Neuer and the recent personal choices of Mesut Özil and Ilkay Gündogan never seriously threatened their places, meaning the selection of uncapped Freiburg striker Nils Petersen was the only real shock among a host of familiar faces.
Petersen may still miss out on Russia, with four players to be cut by June 4, but the man indelibly associated with Germany's 2014 World Cup win will definitely have the summer off. As indeed will Andre Schürrle, his current Borussia Dortmund teammate, and the man who provided the assist in Rio.
The break may even be good for a player who reached the pinnacle of his career at just 22 and whose descent since has been almost as swift as his rise.
His grace and vision came to the fore as he racked up 16 goals and 20 assists for Dortmund in all competitions in 2012-13 before agreeing a move to Bayern Munich, who BVB would meet in that season's Champions League final.
Fall from grace
But that move only accelerated a downward spiral that reached its zenith on Tuesday. Despite a decent start in Bavaria, where he contributed 14 goals and 13 assists, Götze cut an increasingly marginalized figure as a series of injuries and an accompanying loss of form eventually saw him head back to the Signal Iduna Park.
Again, the move hasn't quite worked out. While he's played deeper in recent times, Götze has scored just twice in the Bundesliga this term and has struggled as much as his club. Indeed, it's a mark of Dortmund's regression that Marco Reus is their only representative in the squad.
Löw is known for his loyalty to players, as shown by the presence of Matthias Ginter, Mario Gomez and Neuer, who hasn't played since September, in his preliminary squad.
But even Löw's faith in the man who was once the golden boy of German football has been tested beyond its limits. After failing to score while played up front in Euro 2016, a combination of illness, injury and poor form have seen him picked by the national team boss for just 45 minutes of Germany's last 1,620.
For most national sides, the combination of history and the talent would be enough to earn selection. But with Leroy Sane, Özil, Julian Brandt, Julian Draxler, Leon Goretzka, Thomas Müller and Reus as the options picked ahead of him, Götze can have little room for complaint.
But, despite having packed more in to the last four years than most players do in a career, Götze is far from done. Löw said he "felt sorry" for the 25-year-old before adding that "this season he really wasn't in form - I hope he returns."
A summer of rest and recuperation, and perhaps even the jolt of missing out on Russia 2018, may yet prove more advantageous to Götze than it first appears. With a new coach set to take charge at BVB in the coming weeks, he may also find himself rejuvenated in the way that Brandt has since Heiko Herrlich took charge at Leverkusen at the start of the season.
Right now, that's likely to prove the scantest of consolations for Götze. But, for Löw and for Germany, the sheer depth of talent available means sentiment and history need not play a part in their World Cup title defense.
Will Germany's best goalkeeper be fit enough to play? Even though Neuer missed most of the season with injury issues, Joachim Löw has brought his captain along in the hope that he recovers.
International games: 74 / Goals: 0 / World Cup tournaments: 2
Marc-André ter Stegen
The Barcelona goalkeeper has been Löw's go-to option with Neuer on the shelf. With Germany's captain back in the fold, ter Stegen may have to make do with the bench, but he could also start while Neuer works on his fitness.
International games: 19 / Goals: 0 / World Cup tournaments: 0
Trapp is the main beneficiary of Neuer's failure to recover. He had an underwhelming season, making just 12 appearances for Paris Saint-Germain and some high profile errors, but he's made the cut, for now.
International games: 3 / Goals: 0 / World Cup tournaments: 0
The Bayern Munich man is arguably Germany's best defender, and one of the first names on Löw's teamsheet. But Boateng picked up a thigh injury against Real Madrid in March, casting doubt on whether he will be fit in time for the World Cup.
International games: 70 / Goals: 1 / World Cup tournaments: 2
Boateng's central defensive partner at club and international level is one of Löw's key men. The question is not whether he is going to start at the World Cup, but who will be starting alongside him.
International games: 63 / Goals: 5 / World Cup tournaments: 1
The Chelsea defender evidently has Löw's trust, as proven by his regular playing time during World Cup qualifiers. He will likely be the primary backup to Boateng and Hummels.
International games: 23 / Goals: 1 / World Cup tournaments: 0
He had a strong first season at Bayern and has experience playing with both Hummels and Boateng. The 22-year-old is now poised to make his first World Cup squad.
International games: 9 / Goals: 0 / World Cup tournaments: 0
His transfer from Borussia Dortmund to Borussia Mönchengladbach hasn't done Ginter's international chances any harm. The utility man was the youngest squad member of the 2014 team, but didn't play a minute at the tournament. He'll be hoping for more this time, but may also struggle to make the final 23.
International games: 17 / Goals: 0 / World Cup appearances: 1
The Bayern defender has not only become Germany's best right back, but one of the best right backs in the world. Löw will need him at his best at the World Cup.
International games: 27 / Goals: 3 / World Cup appearances: 0
He will be playing in the second division next season after Cologne were relegated from the Bundesliga. Before then, Hector is likely to make his World Cup debut as Löw's starting left back.
International Games: 36 / Goals: 3 / World Cup tournaments: 0
Despite making his international debut at the Confederations Cup last year, the Hertha Berlin man finds himself with a decent chance of travelling to Russia. A set piece specialist, the 26-year-old will be backup for Hector.
International Games: 6 / Goals: 0 / World Cup tournaments: 0
A metronomic presence, Kroos is expected to run the show in midfield for the defending champions. The Real Madrid midfielder has been an automatic selection for Germany for some time, and could enter the tournament with another Champions League title under his belt.
International games: 82 / Goals: 12 / World Cup appearances: 2
At 31, the Juventus midfielder may no longer be at the height of his powers. But his leadership is what Löw covets most and his commanding presence on the field will, almost certainly, earn him a starting spot.
International games: 73 / Goals: 7 / World Cup tournaments: 2
He missed out on the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and the 2016 European Championship in France. After starting every game at the 2017 Confederations Cup, Rudy is trying to convince Löw to finally bring him to a major tournament.
International games: 24 / Goals: 1 / World Cup tournaments: 0
The Manchester City midfielder is finally fit after missing Germany's last two major tournaments with various injuries. He is another deep-lying playmaker who can make things happen in midfield.
International games: 24 / Goals: 4 / World Cup tournaments: 0
The Arsenal midfielder is one of the best playmakers in the world, but has often drawn criticism for a perceived propensity to disappear at the crucial moments. Despite the political furor earlier in the week, he will be one of Löw's primary options in Russia.
International games: 89 / Goals: 22 / World Cup tournaments: 2
"Müller always plays," former Bayern coach Louis Van Gaal once said. He is not a forward in the conventional sense, but he always seems to find a way to score goals. He has World Cup pedigree too - he won the Golden Boot in 2010 and the Silver Boot in 2014.
International games: 90 / Tore: 38 / World Cup tournaments: 2
The 29-year-old finally seems set to make his World Cup debut. He just has to get through a training camp in South Tyrol without injuring himself...
International goals: 29 / Goals: 9 / World Cup tournaments: 0
Another Löw favorite, Draxler captained Germany at the Confederations Cup last year. After not getting the playing time he craved at Paris Saint-Germain this term, Draxler is looking to seize his opportunity at international level.
International games: 42 / Goals: 6 / World Cup tournaments: 1
The soon-to-be Bayern midfielder followed up his impressive Confederations Cup showing with a strong season for Schalke. However, he's likely to be back on the bench with Germany's stars back in the fold.
International games: 14 / Goals: 6 / World Cup tournaments: 0
The 22-year-old winger took on more responsibility at Leverkusen this season. Now he's aiming to cement his place in Löw's squad for years to come.
International games: 14 / Goals: 1 / World Cup tournaments: 0
The Leipzig forward is small, quick and explosive — unlike most of Germany's other striking options. The 22-year-old is likely Löw's first choice up front after winning the Golden Boot at last year's Confederations Cup.
International games: 12 / Goals: 7 / World Cup tournaments: 0
The Stuttgart forward has fallen down the pecking order since his terrific performance at Euro 2016. Even at 32, he is still one of Germany's most prolific goal scorers, but he has to be in tip-top shape in order to convince Löw to take him to Russia.
International games: 73 / Goals: 31 / World Cup tournaments: 1