Schweinsteiger ready to rise to the occasion

By Karolos Grohmann

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger's World Cup task has just got a lot harder.

The 25-year-old Bayern Munich player is expected to carry a bigger burden after captain Michael Ballack, who pulled the strings in Germany's midfield, was forced to withdraw from the tournament following an ankle injury.

Schweinsteiger, who has won 73 caps and scored 19 goals since his first appearance in 2004, was long considered a major talent.

But he was also seen to be lacking that consistency and determination found among players wanting to lead. That was the reason Bayern fans jeered and whistled when they saw him at the annual general meeting early in the season.

"I heard the whistles there and now we are on the brink of making history," said Schweinsteiger as he prepared for the Champions League final and the first potential treble of a German team.

The Bavarian has just completed a dream season for his club, helping them to a domestic league and Cup double and qualifying for the Champions League final against Inter Milan.

More importantly, he has matured as a strategist, exuding calmness and confidence in his every move while his passing game and vision have improved considerably.

With a record number of ball contacts in the Bundesliga this season and armed with a more versatile game, 'Schweini', as he is affectionately known, has finally come of age at just the right time.

The blond-haired, soft-spoken midfielder, preparing for his second World Cup, does not feel any extra pressure now that Ballack is out of the squad.

"It's a loss for the team, because of (Ballack's) personality and responsibilities, but I am convinced that we can still play a good World Cup without him," Schweinsteiger told Reuters.

"Either way I would have had those added responsibilities. I will not put more pressure on myself and will only concentrate on my performances."

Those performances, against Group D rivals Australia, Serbia and Ghana, could go a long way in determining Germany's fate at the World Cup.

(Editing by Clare Fallon)