Houston Chronicle - - SOCCER -

Pre­dicted order of fin­ish: Ger­many, Mex­ico, Sweden, South Korea.

Out­look: In the 13 tour­na­ments since 1966, Die Mannschaft (The Team) has raised the tro­phy three times, col­lected four run­ner-up medals and fin­ished third in three other at­tempts. The 2014 ti­tle ended a 24-year cham­pi­onship drought, and four sum­mers later, backto-back crowns are within grasp.

Joachim Loew, who has spent 14 years as an as­sis­tant and head coach implementing a vel­vety and mer­ci­less sys­tem, assem­bled a deep and ex­pe­ri­enced squad for the next ad­ven­ture. The foun­da­tion fea­tures Bay­ern Mu­nich’s Mats Hum­mels, Jerome Boateng and Thomas Mueller; Real Madrid’s Toni Kroos; Arse­nal’s Me­sut Ozil; Borus­sia Dort­mund’s Marco Reus; and Paris Sain­tGer­main’s Ju­lian Draxler.

With about a dozen play­ers com­pet­ing in Euro­pean leagues, Mex­ico is more so­phis­ti­cated these days. Had the draw worked in its fa­vor, El Tri might have ended its string of six con­sec­u­tive de­feats in the round of 16. Alas, a sec­ond-place fin­ish would al­most cer­tainly lead to Brazil. Top tal­ent in­cludes Hirv­ing Lozano, a 22-year-old for­ward with PSV Eind­hoven; West Ham’s Javier “Chichar­ito” Her­nan­dez; and Porto’s Hec­tor Her­rera.

Sweden’s re­turn from a 12-year ab­sence, made pos­si­ble by up­set­ting Italy in a qual­i­fy­ing play­off, raised the tan­ta­liz­ing pos­si­bil­ity of su­per­star Zla­tan Ibrahi­movic re­join­ing the squad. But the Swedes have func­tioned bet­ter with­out him, though they could use his scor­ing punch this sum­mer.

South Korea has been a model of con­sis­tency, qual­i­fy­ing for nine con­sec­u­tive tour­na­ments. Only Brazil, Ar­gentina, Ger­many and Spain have longer streaks. Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur for­ward Son He­ung-Min is the key man.

Christof Stache / AFP/Getty Im­ages

Mats Hum­mels and Ger­many could be cel­e­brat­ing an­other cham­pi­onship.

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