Beckenbauer says Germany could make World Cup final

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By Agnieszka Flak

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Germany have a strong chance of playing in the World Cup final despite a string of injuries which eliminated several top players, former winner Franz Beckenbauer said on Tuesday.

Beckenbauer, who won the World Cup with West Germany as both a player and coach, said that while he was disappointed that captain Michael Ballack would not play, the June 11-July 11 tournament should be an opportunity for other players to shine.

"I saw them playing recently against Hungary and Bosnia, very impressive. You know the Germans, the spirit, they always fight till the last minute ... Germany is respected by the opponents because they never give up," he told reporters.

Injuries have so far ruled out Ballack and four other players, restricting coach Joachim Loew's options in midfield and robbing his team of its natural leader.

"Ballack is the most important player in the German team and a World Cup is a great stage for the really big ones and when they are not there, they are missed... but if the other players are able to give 5-10 percent more, you can balance that out ... and the team can get to the final," he said.

Beckenbauer said the likes of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira would make the team strong after making a seamless transition from supporting actors under Ballack to playing leading roles.

"Schweinsteiger and Khedira fit well together and I believe they will play a decisive role," he said.

Germany play Australia in their first Group D match on June 13, before facing Serbia on June 18 and Ghana on June 23.

Brazil and Spain are Beckenbauer's other favorites for the trophy this year. "You always have to count on Brazil because of their abilities, their qualities, their skills ... Spain at the moment is playing the most spectacular, organized football in Europe," he said.

Beckenbauer said he hoped at least one of the six African teams would make it to the semi-finals, but hosts South Africa would have a tough challenge against Mexico in the opening game on Friday. This year's event is the first time the tournament is held on the continent.

(Reporting by Agnieszka Flak, Editing by Nigel Hunt)