ROBERT ENKE'S SUICIDE LAST NOVEMBER ROBBED GERMANY OF ITS WORLD CUP GOALKEEPER. ENKE HAD BEEN POISED TO ASSUME THE MANTLE OF OLIVER KAHN, WHO HELPED THE Mannschaft reach the final in 2002, and Jens Lehmann, who was instrumental in Germany's reaching the semifinals and finishing third in '06. Enke was 32, an age at which goalies are usually in their prime. After cutting his teeth in the Portuguese first division, where he played 77 games for Benfica, he had found his footing at Hannover 96, the Bundesliga team to which he moved in '04. Enke's widow, Teresa, revealed that he had battled depression for years, and that was likely the reason he stepped in front of an express train in Neustadt-Eilvese, Germany.
René Adler, a 25-year-old who plays for Bayer Leverkusen, has replaced Enke between the pipes, and while he, like the goalkeepers who went before him, is strong, he lacks international experience. So do the two backup keepers chosen by manager Joachim Löw. That's one reason a cloud of doubt hovers over the German team. There are also questions about who will start at striker and what shape the midfield will take, rare concerns for a side historically known for its stability.
Bayern Munich's Miroslav Klose won the Golden Boot at the 2006 World Cup after scoring five goals, but Lukas Podolski had arguably just as fine a run, scoring three times at the tender age of 21. It appeared then that Germany had its striker pairing for the next decade, but it hasn't worked out that way.
Podolski's development hit a bump when he changed Bundesliga teams, from Cologne to Bayern Munich, with which he lost his starting spot to Italy's Luca Toni. Last July, Podolski returned to Cologne, but he has scored only two goals this season. Klose also struggled to put up points for Bayern Munich, and now neither forward is a certain starter in South Africa.
Mario Gomez, 24, is the likeliest candidate to unseat either Klose or Podolski. He could push Podolski to left wing or send Klose, his teammate at Bayern Munich, to the bench. Gomez, who has 10 goals in 26 Bundesliga games this season, might also be used as a lone striker in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
Who will partner with Chelsea star Michael Ballack in the middle became the biggest question facing the Mannschaft after expected starter Simon Rolfes, a 28-year-old defensive-minded midfielder for Bayern Leverkusen, had knee surgery in January. There is hope that he will recover in time for the World Cup, but if he doesn't, his absence will require some reshuffling of the midfield.
Bastian Schweinsteiger, 25, could move from the left side to the middle, where he appeared this season for Bayern Munich. Sami Khedira, 23, could also work his way into the mix after impressing recently for Stuttgart. Löw might also look at Werder Bremen youngsters Mesut Özil and Marko Marin to fill a wide spot opposite Hamburg's Piotr Trochowski. Toni Kroos from Bayern Leverkusen and Thomas Müller of Bayern Munich are offensive-minded midfielders who could get a look too.