Joachim Loew might be the happiest coach on earth, given that he can choose from 40 world class footballers and highly talented youngsters when putting together his squad for the 2018 World Cup.

The German national coach has made clear that it’s an open race for the 23 places. However, before the 2014 World Cup winner starts the final preparations in a few months for the world’s most important football tournament, the 57-year-old will have to follow up his words with deeds. It will not be easy for Loew, reports Xinhua news agency.

Germany’s talents, many of whom were part of the 2017 Confed Cup winning team or the Under-21 European Championship winning junior team, demand playing time, and the coach has to prove that he is serious about everything he has said.

On Friday, Germany will play the Czech Republic in a World Cup qualifier before taking on Norway next Monday. Two victories would clinch a place at the World Cup in Russia as the team is still unbeaten in its group.

“We expect a good performance and full concentration from everybody,” Loew said after having to replace the injured goalkeeper Manuel Neuer and defender Jerome Boateng (both of Bayern Munich). Midfielders Serge Gnabry and Sami Khedira (Juventus Turin) are also out with injuries and have left the national team for further treatment.

While Loew is talking about the hardest competition ever in his squad, pundits doubt that there will be an open race as established players block most positions. The Munich-based news-magazine “Focus” told its readers that only two places in the starting eleven seem to be under attack. Looking at the facts, only the centre forward and defensive midfielder positions are still up for grabs.

Timo Werner (RB Leipzig), Mario Gomez (VfL Wolfsburg) and Lars Stindl (Borussia Moenchengladbach) are candidates up front, while Khedira will have his work cut out to keep Emre Can (Liverpool), Leon Goretzka (Schalke 04) and Sebastian Rudy (Bayern Munich) at bay in midfield.

Others like goalkeeperManuel Neuer, the backline of Joshua Kimmich, Boateng, Mats Hummels (Bayern Munich) and Jonas Hector (FC Cologne), midfielders Toni Kroos (Real Madrid), Julian Draxler (Paris St Germain/left wing), Thomas Mueller (Bayern) and Mesut Oezil (right wing or midfield) are not expected to be in any real danger.

Loew insists he has made no final decisions. “I guess many things may still happen in the next months and I hope I will have the opportunity to select the right team,” the German coach said. The last six months in advance of the tournament in Russia will be used by the coach to get the final squad into top shape.

Loew’s decision might depend on his tactical system. He favors the traditional 4-2-3-1 system and the recently used 3-2-2-3-1. “Both are suitable for the team,” Loew said.

Several candidates are still working their way back to top form. Some players are still injured and others have only recently returned. When Mario Goetze, Andre Schuerrle, Julian Weigl and Marco Reus (all Dortmund) and Ilkay Guendogan (Manchester City) are all fully fit, then the competition will become even more intense, making it harder for the youngsters to gain a place.

Niklas Suele (Bayern Munich) for instance or established defenders such as Benedikt Hoewedes (Juventus Turin) and Shkodran Mustafi (Arsenal) have lost ground and are about to lose their place. Bayer Leverkusen midfielder Julian Brandt, Manchester City winger Leroy Sane, and Gnabry only have small chance of being among the starting eleven, or even being selected at all.

While Barcelona keeper Marc-Andre Ter Stegen is expected to be Germany’s number two behind Neuer, youngsters such as Matthias Ginter (Moenchengladbach), Benjamin Henrichs (Leverkusen), Antonio Ruediger (Chelsea) and Amin Younes (Ajax Amsterdam) will not have a major role to play in Loew’s squad.