Three-time world champions Germany start as clear favourites to win Group C in European qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™. Coach Joachim Low’s men will do battle with Sweden, Republic of Ireland, Faroe Islands, Austria and Kazakhstan. In an odd twist of fate, the last two of these are currently in the same section as the Germans in the race for a place at UEFA EURO 2012.

The favourites
Germany are the undisputed masters of FIFA World Cup qualifying, losing just two of the 74 qualifiers in their history to date, with no defeats at all away from home. Based on that, Philipp Lahm, Mesut Ozil and Co will be confident of progressing from Group C, particularly given their country’s record of maintaining full focus even when confronted by the minnows of the world game. Slip-ups and unnecessarily dropped points are fundamentally unheard of for the Germans.

However, Sweden and Austria are hardly unknown quantities, having featured at the FIFA World Cup finals ten and seven times respectively, although 1934 and 1954 semi-finalists Austria have failed to qualify for the last three tournaments. Sweden made the last 16 in 2002 and 2006, but missed out on South Africa 2010.

The outsiders
Republic of Ireland: In a remarkable achievement for a country of its size, Republic of Ireland have made the finals three times in the past.

Kazakhstan: But the Faroe Islands and Kazakhstan boast no such proud history, as both have yet to qualify for the finals of a major football tournament. Given the Group C line-up this time, a place in Brazil 2014 looks a big ask for the lowly-ranked pair. Nevertheless, the qualifying contest is certain to provide two all-new experiences for Kazakhstan, as the relatively young footballing nation will be facing both the Swedes and the Irish for the first time in their history.

Players to watch
Manuel Neuer, Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Mesut Ozil, Miroslav Klose, Thomas Muller (GER), Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Kim Kallstrom, Ola Toivonen (SWE), Marc Janko (AUT)

The crunch match
Germany-Sweden
Almost certainly, the duel for top spot in the section boils down to the meetings between Germany and Sweden. The third-place finishers at the 2006 and 2010 FIFA World Cup finals and the Scandinavians are the favourites in the group, based both on their past FIFA World Cup records and their current positions in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking. Germany and Sweden have met five times in FIFA World Cup qualifying in the past, starting in 1937 and most recently in 1985. The record very much favours the Germans, with three wins and two draws, 12 goals scored and only four conceded.

A look back
Germany-Austria
Any meeting between European neighbours Germany and Austria rates as a reunion between old friends, as the nations have crossed swords no fewer than 36 times in the last 100 years. The Germans have only played one nation more often, namely the Netherlands (37 matches). And for the time being, Germany and Austria appear predestined to meet whenever there is a draw for a major tournament, as they were grouped together for the current EURO 2012 qualifying competition, in which the Austrians have proved awkward opponents.

The stat
2.46
– The three-time world champions have collected an average of 2.46 points per game en route to qualifying for every finals they have entered so far, scoring approximately three goals per match.

Did you know?
The Faroes are embarking on FIFA World Cup qualifying for the sixth time. The eliminators for the 2010 finals in South Africa finally brought their first-ever qualifying victory, a 2-1 success against Lithuania on 9 September 2009.

Have your say
Will Germany live up to their billing and cruise through European qualifying Group C, or will one or more of their challengers trip up the nation which finished third in South Africa?