- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Germany begins its World Cup preparations in earnest with Wednesday’s friendly against Chile in Stuttgart.

Coach Joachim Loew has been at pains to focus his players’ attention on the World Cup with 99 days to go. Preparations to date have been far from ideal, with key players injured, returning from injury or simply not in form. Chile is also gearing up for the tournament in Brazil. Here are five things to know ahead of the teams’ seventh meeting:


NEW FACES: Loew called up four new players to assess his options. Freiburg defender Matthias Ginter, Hamburger SV striker Pierre-Michel Lasogga and Augsburg attacking midfielder Andre Hahn are joined by Sampdoria defender Shkodran Mustafi, who was barely known in Germany before his call-up. Hahn thought somebody was pulling his leg when he received the call from one of Loew’s assistants. “When someone comes into the squad for the first time and is still young, like Lasogga for example, there’s naturally a bit of nervousness for the player,” Loew said. “That’s why it’s very important to hold talks with the players and show them the ropes. At the World Cup we need the best players at the time, not the best players in theory. Everyone has the chance to get aboard the World Cup train.”

UNDER CONSTRUCTION: The coach has had to tear up his first-choice lineup due to stars’ injuries and inconsistency. On the injured list were midfielders Sami Khedira and Ilkay Gundogan, Bayern Munich’s Thomas Mueller and Dortmund’s Sven Bender. Among those who returned to action too recently for Loew were Fiorentina striker Mario Gomez,Dortmund’s Mats Hummels and Marco Reus, and Schalke’s Julian Draxler and Benedikt Hoewedes. Borussia Moenchengladbach forward Max Kruse and Hamburg goalkeeper Rene Adler were dropped because of poor form. Leverkusen defensive midfielder Lars Bender dropped out on Monday with a hamstring injury, while Lazio striker Miroslav Klose was fighting to recover from a bruised pelvic bone and abdominal muscle problems.

Bayern’s Bastian Schweinsteiger, Dortmund winger Kevin Grosskreutz and Arsenal forward Lukas Podolski are back in after recent injuries. Meanwhile, Arsenal midfielder Mesut Ozil’s form is a cause for concern. “The players have to do everything to get into top form. The time before the tournament will be just as hard as at the World Cup,” Loew said. “Reality trumps theory. In theory we have a strong team, but in reality it looks somewhat different.”

THE COUNTDOWN: “The clock’s ticking. Only those who hear it have a realistic chance of being there,” Loew warned his players on Monday. The coach, who is still seeking a major title with Germany, will name his preliminary squad for Brazil on May 8, before paring his selection to 20 outfield players and three goalkeepers before FIFA’s deadline on June 2. Germany will hold a training camp before that in South Tirol, Italy. “All players have to be completely fit and capable of taking the load physically and mentally” by then, Loew said last week. On Monday he added, “We’ve begun the period of truth and clarity. We have to make decisions that will hurt one player or another.”

Germany’s group opponents at the World Cup are Ghana, Portugal and the United States.

CONFIRMED STARTERS: Bayern’s Toni Kroos will definitely play against Chile, while Loew said Philipp Lahm would start in midfield, a role his captain has filled impressively when asked to play there by Bayern coach Pep Guardiola. “I also have the chance to test the wing-back position in this game,” Loew said. Lars Bender had been an option. “But he won’t play now,” said Loew, referring to the player’s injury. “Kevin Grosskreutz played this position in the first half of the season, also in the Champions League, and he delivered strong performances. So my planning is leaning in the direction that he’ll start on the right.”

FAMILIAR FACE: Juventus attacking midfielder Arturo Vidal will be well known to many in the German squad from his time at Leverkusen. The Chile winger scored 21 goals and set up 15 more in 117 Bundesliga appearances over four seasons before his transfer to Italy in 2011. Chile coach Jorge Sampaoli also named Barcelona forward Alexis Sanchez in his 19-man squad. Chile was drawn in World Cup Group B with defending champion Spain, beaten finalist the Netherlands and Australia.

Germany and Chile have played six times, with the Germans winning four and Chile twice. Germany won the last meeting 4-1 at the 1982 World Cup in Spain. Chile’s last win was in 1968 in Santiago, Chile.

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