Germany to integrate youngsters against Italy

BERLIN - Germany meet Italy in a friendly in Dortmund on Wednesday in a repeat of the 2006 World Cup semi-final, but the hosts' young squad bears almost no resemblance to the defeated Germany team of five years ago.

Germany coach Joachim Low is looking to integrate several more young players into his already youthful side with an eye on the Euro 2012 qualifiers and the tournament itself.

Five Dortmund players are vying for a place in Loew's long-term plans.

The 18-year-old Mario Goetze (pictured) and his Dortmund team-mates Mats Hummels and Marcel Schmelzer have already made names for themselves, with the latter pair serious options in defence.

Team-mates Kevin Grosskreutz, 22, who has two caps, and uncapped 21-year-old Sven Bender complete the Bundesliga leaders' contribution to the national cause.

While Hummels, 22, could win a starting spot in central defence, Schmelzer, 23, has emerged as an aggressive left back, a position that has changed almost constantly in the past few years.

"Mats is more and more convincing with his style of play," Low said. "In the past four or five months he has made a significant step forward."

Low's choices will also boost interest for the game at Dortmund's Westfalen Stadium - site of their 2006 semi-final defeat in extra-time - with fans having already snapped up 54,000 of the 64,000 tickets.

Germany, whose last win over Italy came in 1995, top their Euro 2012 qualifying Group A, with their next qualifier on March 26 against Kazakhstan.


Italy welcome back goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon for the first time since he was substituted in their opening World Cup game last June. Buffon needed back surgery that kept him out of action until last month.

"February 9 will be like a debut for me - it will be another great emotional moment after my return for Juventus," Buffon told his website.

Antonio Cassano is also back after missing the 1-1 friendly draw against Romania in November, having at that stage been dropped by Sampdoria because of an internal dispute.

The mercurial forward has since joined Serie A leaders AC Milan and has been in superb form.

Juventus forward Fabio Quagliarella, who impressed against Romania and had been one of Italy's form players in the early part of the season, is out for possibly the rest of the campaign with knee ligament damage.

Coach Cesare Prandelli's big hope for the future - Manchester City's Mario Balotelli - is also injured and was subjected to racist booing in the Romania game held in Austria.

A first call-up for Inter Milan's Brazil-born midfielder Thiago Motta also caused a stir in Italy given he represented Brazil at under-23 level. His inclusion still requires ratification from FIFA.

Italy top Euro 2012 qualifying Group C after their last qualifier at home to Serbia was abandoned because of crowd violence and the Azzurri were awarded a walkover win. Their next qualifier is in Slovenia on March 25.

Probable teams:

Germany: Manuel Neuer; Philipp Lahm, Per Mertesacker, Mats Hummels, Holger Badstuber