In a curious twist of fate typical of the FIFA World Cup™, Australia's opening opponents in a fierce-looking Group D here on South African soil are none other than Germany, host nation for the Socceroos' previous two finals trips in 1974 and 2006. Having reached the Round of 16 four years ago, the Aussies will be keen to repeat that feat, yet a group containing the three-time world champions – taking part in their 17th finals – as well as Serbia and Ghana leaves little margin for error.
Neutrals would doubtless enjoy a match along the lines of the countries' spectacular clash at the FIFA Confederations Cup Germany 2005, a game which ended 4-3 to the hosts. Four survivors from that Germany side, in the shape of Arne Friedrich, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Per Mertesacker and Lukas Podolski, are likely to start on Sunday, as well as Australia trio Mark Schwarzer, Tim Cahill and Craig Moore. The two nations' only previous FIFA World Cup contest came 36 years ago, when eventual winners West Germany sank Australia 3-0 in the first round. The Socceroos were making their debut at the global showpiece and ended up going home clutching a solitary point and without scoring a single goal.
The contrast between the two goalkeepers could hardly be starker, with Australia No1 Schwarzer bristling with the experience of nearly 700 professional games, 75 international caps and the aforementioned Germany 2006 campaign. The veteran shotstopper also holds the record for most appearances by a foreign player in England's Premier League, spanning spells at Middlesbrough and current club Fulham, with whom he appeared in last month's UEFA Europa League final defeat by Atletico Madrid – his second big European final. Adding extra spice is the fact that Schwarzer's parents emigrated from Germany to Australia in 1968, and the keeper also boasts Bundesliga experience from early in his career.
Guarding the opposite goal is imposing custodian Manuel Neuer, who at 24 will be making his finals debut for Die Nationalelf. Expected to be the second-choice keeper at South Africa 2010, the Schalke man has found himself elevated to a starting role after Rene Adler dropped out through injury. He does have five senior caps for Germany to his name, however, and was between the sticks when his country’s U-21 squad claimed the continental title last year. One thing seems for certain, with the scoring nous of Australia's Tim Cahill and Josh Kennedy and the likes of Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski gunning for goal for Germany, Neuer and Schwarzer should be busy.
76 – Coach Joachim Low has assembled Germany's youngest FIFA World Cup squad for 76 years, with his 23-man group having an average age of less than 26. You have to go back to 1934 to find a younger squad, and Germany went on to finish third on that occasion.
What they say
"Our aim is to win, we plan to take the initiative and put pressure on the Australian goal. But they are an extremely well-organised side and their defence is particularly solid. They'll fight for every ball and they're really hard to play against, let alone beat," Joachim Low, Germany coach.
"The Germans are better than us. If they offered us a draw now, we'd bite their hand off. They are probably the most consistent team in the world, they defend like a machine. It'll be really difficult to get a result," Lucas Neill, Australia captain.
Voice of the fans
"Germany have to be favourites, but whether we'll win or not is another matter. In a World Cup match like this Jogi's youngsters have to be careful, because the Aussies have nothing to lose and they'll give it everything they've got," Hölzenbein91 (Germany).
After losing a host of players to injury in the build-up to South Africa 2010, can Germany dig deep and kick off their campaign with a win?