By Luis Bueno, SI.com
Germany has suffered a huge blow with talismanic midfielder Michael Ballack being ruled out of the World Cup with injury.
Nigel Treblin/AFP/Getty Images
Through April, SI.com will profile two World Cup teams a week. We continue with Germany. Click here for the full archive.
Miroslav Klose broke through at the 2006 World Cup, scoring five goals and claiming the Golden Boot. To prove that was no fluke, he scored a team-high seven goals during qualifying. Lukas Podolski gives Klose a dangerous partner, and together could form one of the most potent forward tandems in South Africa. Podolski scored six goals during qualifying, had three in Germany '06 and won the tournament's Best Young Player award.
Influential captain Michael Ballack suffered an ankle in the FA Cup final playing for Chelsea and will not take part in South Africa. With Bayer Leverkusen's brilliant young holding midfielder Simon Rolfes, also missing after knee surgery, Germany is extremely light in the middle.
Look for Bayern Munich central midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger to be used in a holding role alongside Stuggart's Sami Khedira. That could free up a starting spot on the left wing for Werder Bremen youngster Mesut Özil.
What to watch for
Germany was dealt a tough blow with goalkeeper Robert Enke's suicide last November. Well liked by his teammates, coaches and fans, the likely World Cup starter shocked the nation when he stepped in front of a high-speed train. Enke had suffered through a long battle with depression, and his untimely death left his home nation in a major funk, too.
But a strong psyche is part of the German makeup, as is finding a capable goalkeeper. Bayern Leverkusen youngster René Adler will look to fill the boots previously occupied by German legends: Jens Lehmann and Oliver Kahn set the bar high in helping Germany finish in third and second place in the '06 and '02 World Cups, respectively.
Unlike many European nations, Germany also has had success in World Cups played outside of Europe, as Die Mannschaft has reached two World Cup finals away from continental soil, including the last one played outside Europe: Japan/Korea 2002.
Overall, Germany might not seem to have the top-tier talent of other European nations, but it did reach the finals at the 2008 European Championship and '02 World Cup, as well as the semifinals of the '06 World Cup. A perennial contender, Germany has never failed to advance past the group stage. It's no stretch to suggest that it will be a force once more in South Africa.
Key match in group stage
June 18 vs. Serbia. Serbia is no slouch, having won a qualifying group that featured France, Romania and Austria. While a setback in this game may not cost the Germans a spot in the second round, it could mean the difference between facing England in the round of 16 or avoiding the Three Lions altogether.
Celebrity scouting report: Dirk Nowitzki*
For some reason in qualifying, we didn't play great. But always when the big tournaments come around, we're right there with everybody else. In the Euros two years ago, we were in the final and lost to Spain. Four years ago in the World Cup, we made it to the semifinals. That's already pretty good -- that's elite in the world. ... Obviously, Ballack has to play well. He's our leader, he's our best player and he's got to lead the troops. Our strikers have to score -- we've had trouble finding strikers who can, but Klose, Podolski, all of those guys hopefully can have an impact up front and give us some goals and we'll be all right. ... You can't plan on winning the World Cup, it sort of happens. There's some great competition. But we should be OK. We're always a tournament team. We'll take another run at it and see how far we can go.
* The Dallas Mavericks nine-time All-Star power forward is from Würzburg, Germany. As told to Paul Forrester.