The consensus favorites for the World Cup are Spain and Brazil, followed by Argentina. But what about Germany? Opinions range widely, but many people think the young squad is good for the semi-finals.
Most see Germany lagging behind teams like Argentina
There's always a difference between what footballers say they'd like to do and what their actual goal is. Case in point: Germany.
Ahead of the team's arrival in South Africa on Monday, June 7, Philipp Lahm repeatedly said the aim was to qualify for the final four.
"Our goal is the semifinals, though of course we dream of achieving more," Lahm said on May 31 in his first official press conference after replacing injured Michael Ballack as team captain. And the defender has stuck by those words in the past week.
Germany were considered medium outsiders for the title even before Ballack was ruled out, and after the Chelsea midfielder got injured, the odds against them rose.
Still, bookmakers seem to feel Lahm's assessment is realistic.
Betting shops are currently offering 12-1 odds on Germany winning the trophy in South Africa. That makes the Nationalelf the sixth most fancied team, behind the three top favorites, Brazil, Spain and Argentina, as well as England and the Netherlands.
Given that the final rounds depend largely on the draw, the bookies give Germany a pretty good shot of hanging around until the last four. But what do former German soccer greats and experts think?
King Kahn's confidence
Ballack went down for the count in the FA Cup final in May
Among the familiar faces, goalkeeping titan Oliver Kahn, who made the finals of the 2002 World Cup with a lowly rated team, is the most optimistic.
Before Ballack's injury, he predicted Germany would win the big prize. And he sees parallels between 2002 and 2010.
"We summoned all our strength, adopted a now-or-never mentality and tried to make the best of the situation," Kahn said on the website of the DFB, the German football association. "You don't have to see things negatively.
Others are more cautious.
"This is not a team that permanently creates highlights, but it's stable enough to do what it did four years ago: reach the semifinals," Germany's footballing kaiser, Franz Beckenbauer, opined back in April, before Ballack's injury.
He's sticking with that prediction.
"I believe in the semifinals," Beckenbauer said on Bavarian TV last week. "But I see Brazil and Spain a bit further ahead than us."
Guenter Netzer, the former midfield mastermind turned famously stone-faced television commentator is even more skeptical.
"It would be a great achievement to make the last four," Netzer wrote in his regular column for the Bild newspaper. "Anything more would be icing on the cake.
Loew's loyalty to Klose has put him on the hot seat
The German blogosphere is full of heated debates about the team's prospects, with fans' predictions directly related to their estimations of Ballack and the controversial national coach Joachim Loew.
Those who believe the 33-year-old Ballack was past his prime don't think the team's chances have diminished with his absence.
"Ballack is overrated and always was," one user wrote on the online page of Stern magazine. "Without him, the national team has a much better chance of winning the World Cup."
But those who are critical of Loew, and particularly his loyalty to out-of-form forwards Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski, think a major disaster is in the offing.
"Why are these two zeroes Klose and Podolski allowed to go along for the trip?" asked one on-line Loew-basher. "Hopefully, we'll crash out in the group stage so we can once again get a national coach who has a clue."
Foreigners see in Schweinsteiger a typical German winner
Non-Germans are somewhat more optimistic about the team's chances than Germany's football elite and fans.
Sean Dundee, for example, a native South African who played for many years in the Bundesliga, thinks the Nationalelf could go all the way.
"Of course, it will be more difficult after Ballack's injury," Dundee told a popular German website. "But I have a good feeling about this team. Germany always has the stuff to win a World Cup."
And many foreign fans, who are more aware of history than the daily ups and downs of the squad, think this team could follow in the tradition of earlier ones that won three World Cups.
When BBC commentator John Motson issued his predictions, a surprising number of users wrote in to the website with expressions of confidence for Loew's team.
"They don't [play that spectacularly or that badly]," opined one layman. "They just get on with it and suddenly you're drawn against them in the smifinal and wondering who will miss the killer penalty."
Another use was more succinct about who would achieve victory in South Africa.
"Sorry, folks, you know it already: Deutschland!"
Author: Jefferson Chase
Editor: Matt Hermann