HAMBURG - Three-time world champions Germany will be on most people's list of favourites to win the tournament next year after going through qualifying without defeat.
They have been pitted against Australia, Ghana and Serbia in Group D of the 2010 World Cup, but national team coach Joachim Loew isn't afraid of any of their group opponents, stating that Germany are even better than in 2006 and 2008.
Germany finished third at the 2006 World Cup, which they hosted, and were runners-up to Spain at Euro 2008 in Austria and Switzerland. Loew will come to South Africa without his No 1 goalkeeper Robert Enke, 32, who took his own life after suffering for many years from depression.
Now the choice looks more straightforward for Loew, who also has Manuel Neuer (Schalke 04) and Tim Wiese (Bremen) as likely candidates for the squad.
After a playing career in which he earned four Under-21 caps and coaching jobs in the Bundesliga, Turkey and Austria, Joachim Loew was appointed assistant to Jurgen Klinsmann before the 2006 World Cup. He was the natural successor as head coach after Klinsmann stepped down, and led Germany to Euro 2008. Less charismatic than Klinsmann, Loew, 49, nevertheless shares the former coach's philosophy of taking the game to the opponents.
A tactically astute, thoughtful and analytical coach, he is a well-liked figure who is nonetheless not shy of making tough decisions.
Chelsea's Michael Ballack, captain for the past five years, remains the pivotal figure in the squad as he seeks to bow out in what could be his last international tournament with a first major title with his country.
Though he has won league and cup titles at club level, it has too often been a tale of just missing out for Germany's talismanic skipper.
After 10 years as an international, nearly 100 caps and appearances at two previous World Cups (losing finalist in 2002) and three European Championships (losing finalist in 2008), Germany's fortunes will once again depend on the form and fitness of the three-time German footballer of the year.