ERASMIA, South Africa (AP) — Germany has a young team missing its captain, which makes what the three-time World Cup champion can achieve in South Africa totally unpredictable. Some players think that could play into their hands.
The ankle injury that has taken captain Michael Ballack out of the World Cup has led to responsibility being shared more equally among several players. The new structure could help build stronger team unity.
"We have a very balanced team," central defender Arne Friedrich said Tuesday. "Because of injuries, some other players are coming through. It will be difficult to figure us out; this may be better for us."
Ballack and four others were ruled out with injuries, including Rene Adler, who would have been the No. 1 goalkeeper. This has left coach Joachim Loew with the second-youngest German team in the history of the World Cup, after the 1934 squad for the inaugural competition. The roster includes six players from the team that won the European under-21 title last year.
After Germany won 3-0 in Hungary and beat Bosnia-Herzegovina 3-1 in its final two tuneups, Loew predicted his team was ready to play a good tournament. He did not set a definite target.
"We have players in the team that have a lot of potential, but not so much experience," Loew said. "Of course, we can't predict how these young players will react in extreme situations, if they can draw upon all of their possibilities."
Germany traditionally is a strong tournament team that compensates for lack of flair with determination, discipline and stamina, plus meticulous preparation.
Germany went all the way to the final in 2002 with a squad no one expected to go that far. It reached the semifinals four years ago at home with coaching novice Juergen Klinsmann, eventually falling to Italy, which then won its fourth title.
Loew has bemoaned that his team would have one of the most difficult buildups for a major tournament, and not only because of injuries. Seven Bayern Munich players only joined the squad after the Champions League final. Werder Bremen's four players were also late because of their German Cup final against Bayern.
The Germans first went to Sicily and then to South Tirol, a mountainous, German-speaking area in northern Italy where the team also trained before it won the last of its three championships in 1990.
But Loew did not have the full squad in practice until a few days before the end of the camp.
Along with Friedrich and his central defense partner Per Mertesacker, two other Bayern players who could be in Loew's starting lineup despite very limited national team experience might benefit from playing in the Champions League final.
Midfielder Thomas Mueller and defender Holger Badstuber find themselves in the World Cup after only one season on Bayern's first team.
"They may be young, but being in the Champions League final is incredible for them," Friedrich said.
Mertesacker also called it an "incredible" experience for Mueller and Badstuber. He added that the older members of the squad were helping the younger players integrate.
"They have to feel the support," he said. "We've had several setbacks, but we've been together now for some time, we've closed ranks, we feel comfortable with each other."
Ballack's assertive interpretation of the role of captain sometimes irritated other players. Lukas Podolski once slapped Ballack during a game (against Wales) after Ballack shouted some instructions at him.
Now, however, there seems to be widespread harmony.
"Responsibility is being shared among more players — and not so much subordination," Friedrich said.