The German national team's nightmare has come true, with captain Michael Ballack out of commission for South Africa. So what will coach Joachim Loew do? Deutsche Welle's Jefferson Chase offers his thoughts.
Ballack will be on crutches for the coming weeks
No player is irreplaceable, at least as far conventional football wisdom goes. But Michael Ballack is about as irreplaceable as any one player could be on the German national team.
It doesn't take much inspiration to imagine the four-letter words that escaped coach Joachim Loew's lips, when it was announced on Monday that Ballack had torn ankle ligaments in this weekend's FA Cup final in England and would be sidelined for the World Cup.
The 33-year-old Ballack has been a mainstay for Germany since first being capped in 1999. He's scored 42 goals in 98 appearances for the national team and the most experienced player on a relatively youthful squad.
But his absence also poses a tactical conundrum since it was taken for granted that the captain would pair with Bastian Schweinsteiger in a dual holding midfielder role.
It is now unclear who will be responsible for breaking up opponents' attacks and play the all-important opening pass when Germany press forward.
Frings, r, isn't there to back up Ballack
Joachim Loew's penchant for committing early to who is and out of his squad may come back to haunt him.
The German player most comparable to Ballack in terms of experience and style is Bremen's Torsten Frings. But Loew made it clear at the start of the year he had no use for Frings.
Loew could technically nominate him as a replacement, but given the huge personal acrimony between the two men, it's hard to see Frings on the plane to South Africa.
More likely is that Sami Khedira will be called upon to fill the Ballack role. The midfielder is known for being hard-nosed in defense and won a league title with Stuttgart in 2007.
But he's only 23 years old and has made a grand total of two appearances for the German national team.
Loew could also change his strategy, perhaps relying more on Germany's bevy on up-and-coming offensive midfielders, including Mesut Oezil, Toni Kroos, Marko Marin and Thomas Mueller.
But all of them are young, and only Oezil has made a significant contribution to the national squad in the past.
Out-of-form striker Mario Gomez and naturalized Brazilian Cacau could also play bigger roles, if Loew decides to go with two out-and-out strikers up front.
Ballack got hurt playing for his club Chelsea
Barring an unlikely return by Frings, Loew will probably opt for a mixture of his options. But if Germany are to progress beyond their opening group in South Africa, it will be with a different team than the one Loew was envisioning before the weekend.
Ironically, the foul that led to Ballack's absence was Kevin Prince-Boateng, who was born in Germany. In his younger years, the Berlin native was once touted as a potential replacement for the captain in the Nationalelf.
Boateng ended that possibility after his star fell and he decided to play for Ghana's national team.
Now, Boateng may have ended any chance Germany had to contend for the World Cup title.
Author: Jefferson Chase
Editor: Nancy Isenson