Germany squad vote Spain, France bigger World Cup threat than Russia
Germany players view Spain and France as their biggest rivals on their way to defending the World Cup in Russia, a poll conducted by Sport Bild has shown.
As the Nationalmannschaft set out to become the first nation to defend the World Cup since Brazil achieved the feat with back-to-back wins in 1958 and 1962, the 23 squad players view the two European nations as their biggest challengers. Nine players each cast their vote for Spain and France and three named Brazil as their biggest rival while two -- defender Mats Hummels and goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, the captain -- abstained from voting.
The group backing France includes Barcelona keeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen and eight players currently playing in the Bundesliga.
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"France are by far the strongest team for me regarding the individual quality," Leipzig's Timo Werner said.
However, the majority of Germany players in other leagues backed Spain to rival them for the title. Kroos, Juventus midfielder Sami Khedira and Premier League stars Ilkay Gundogan, Mesut Ozil and Antonio Rudiger all cast their vote for the 2010 winners, with Paris Saint-Germain winger Julian Draxler also naming Spain as their greatest competition.
"They have an incredibly strong defence with a fantastic keeper and a dangerous attack," Khedira said.
"Spain still have a lot of experienced players, but on top of that got a lot of incredibly talented players. They have a high individual quality. Just like Germany."
Bayern forward Thomas Muller, Dortmund's Marco Reus and PSG keeper Kevin Trapp all backed Brazil.
And while Kroos considers Spain as presenting the toughest challenge, he believes someone else could prevent Germany from winning.
"Maybe we are our biggest rival on our path to defending the trophy," Kroos said.
Stephan Uersfeld is the Germany correspondent for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @uersfeld.