The next World Cup is still almost two years away, but qualifying for the event is about to get underway. Germany's first test is against Norway on Sunday. It's the beginning of a new era with a new captain.
When Germany meet Norway in Oslo on Sunday, they'll be led out onto the pitch by Manuel Neuer. Some of the players that won football's biggest prize in 2014 are no longer in the squad, including ex-captain Bastian Schweinsteiger, who resigned from die Mannschaft this week, and Philipp Lahm, the skipper of Germany's triumph four years ago.
Germany are seeking to become only the third team to repeat as World Cup champions after Italy (1934 and 1938) and Brazil (1958 and 1962). Ahead of the Norway clash, Neuer was playing down his new responsibilities.
"The team may not have realized it, but this is my 14th time as captain," said the goalkeeper at a press conference. "I hope I can grow and follow the footsteps of Lahm and Schweinsteiger."
The next cycle
Norway are only ranked number 50 in the world, but Germany coach Joachim Löw says he's not taking a victory for granted, even if a win is a must.
"Of course, it's our ambition to start World Cup qualification with a victory," Löw said.
The statistics are certainly in Germny's favor. The Germans have never lost an away match or a World Cup qualifyer against the Norwegians. And in view of a relatively easy qualifying group C, which also includes Azerbaijan, Northern Ireland, San Marino and the Czech Republic, Germany expect to rule the roost.
"We want to dominate qualifying again," Germany teammanager Oliver Bierhoff said.
But Bierhoff also warned that fans may have to be patient.
"Another cycle is beginning," Bierhoff added. "The profile of the team is changing. We have to develop the squad further, and we have to fill the holes and replace personalities (left by the departed players)...In two years, we have to have a competitive team. To do that, we have to integrate young players early on."
There's a sense in Oslo that something may be rotten with Norway, after they lost a tune-up friendly against Belarus.
"I hope Germany send their women's team," Helge Skutseth, the head of sports for the Norwegian newspaper "Sunnmorsposten," commented on twitter after that result. "Then we might have a chance.
"That was embarassingly weak," concurred deputy Norway captain Stefan Johansen. "If we play like that against Germany, we'll get a beating."
But Norway's chances should not be dismissed entirely. The Norwegian squad includes a few current and recent Bundesliga players like goalkeeper Örjan Nyland (Ingolstadt), midfielder Per Ciljan Skelbred (Hertha Berlin) and defender Havard Nordtveit (ex-Mönchengladbach).
Löw, Neuer and the rest of the German team won't be underestimating them.