When the topic of leading players in the Germany team arises, the likes of Michael Ballack, Miroslav Klose and Philipp Lahm often spring to mind. However, another vital piece in Joachim Low's jigsaw is Arne Friedrich.

A veteran of 66 caps, the pacy defender is one of the most experienced players in the Germany squad and has even worn the captain's armband on four occasions. Indeed, at the 2006 FIFA World Cup™, the versatile player was in the starting line-up for six of the hosts' seven matches.

After finishing third on home soil at the last world finals, and runners-up at UEFA EURO 2008, another tournament at which Friedrich excelled, Germany are now hoping to go one step further and take the biggest prize of all at South Africa 2010. As the start of the new season looms, the Hertha Berlin captain spoke exclusively to FIFA.com about the challenges ahead for both club and country.

FIFA.com: Arne, before we talk about the future, let us take a look back at last season. Hertha headed the Bundesliga standings on five occasions and even enjoyed a four-point lead at the top at one point, only to end the season in fourth place. Were you pleased with the campaign as a whole?
Arne Friedrich:
We achieved the goals we set before the season started, in fact we did even better than we'd hoped - especially considering many experts predicted we'd be involved in a relegation battle. Unfortunately we didn't quite make it into the Champions League places, but the 4-0 loss against Karlsruhe on the final day of the season was hardly Champions League form, anyway.

On the back of last season, the German national team embarked on an Asian tour which included friendly matches against China PR (1-1) and United Arab Emirates (7-2). The trip came under a lot of criticism, chiefly due to a number of top players not travelling and a lack of recuperation time. How did you feel about the tour?
The trip had been planned and agreed a long time ago. We've got some important World Cup qualifiers coming up, so tests like those are important. Everyone just has to bite their lip and get on with it.

You've been at Hertha for seven years now. Would you ever consider playing anywhere else or do you intend to spend the rest of your career in Berlin?
I extended my contract at the end of last year and my plan is to stay in Berlin because it's a fantastic city and the club is run in a very professional manner.

Are you confident that Hertha can challenge for the title again this year?
We'll have to see. Unfortunately we're not in a position to make any expensive signings, but I'm optimistic that we have a decent enough squad. I can't say for sure if we'll be right up there as you always need a bit of luck along the way. Also, the sides we finished ahead of last season are sure to strengthen and will be even more motivated to beat us this year.

You are the captain of Hertha Berlin and one of the club's most reliable performers, as well as one of the first names on the Germany team-sheet. That said, your name is often left out when talk turns to Germany's most influential players. Do you feel underrated?
It doesn't really matter to me what the public thinks or says, I'm only interested in what the coach has to say. Joachim Low knows the way I play and what to expect from me. I'm pretty sure he feels he can rely on me.

The FIFA Confederations Cup, UEFA European Championship and FIFA World Cup - you've appeared at them all. Do you still remember making your full international debut against Bulgaria on 21 August 2002?
It was 1-1 at half time and I was brought on for Christoph Metzelder. Of course I was really excited but at the same time I was extremely nervous. It finished 2-2 in the end, but it was only a friendly.

Since then you've amassed another 65 caps for the national side. What would you say has been the highlight?
I think the World Cup quarter-final against Argentina at the Olympiastadion in Berlin when we won in a penalty shootout would have to be my personal highlight. The atmosphere was fantastic and I'll never forget the moment when Jens Lehmann saved the decisive penalty.

You still haven't managed an international goal...
Yes, I know what you're getting at. Hopefully I'll score one soon.

How do you view your role in the national team?
Well, as I said, Joachim Low knows my strengths and weaknesses. At the EURO it took a couple of games for me to break into the starting 11, but you can't afford to think about things like that too much. You just have to prove yourself in training and in matches.

Germany are top of their group in FIFA World Cup qualifying. Can you see anything going wrong en route to South Africa?
Things can always go wrong, but it's looking good at the moment. We need to stay focused and treat all our opponents with the utmost respect.

Russia appear to be your closest rivals. What do you make of their squad?
It's true that the match in Russia could prove to be the group decider. They are without doubt our biggest challengers in terms of direct qualification.

Are you looking forward to South Africa 2010 and have you already started imagining what it will be like to play there?
No. It's way too early to be thinking about things like that. At the moment I'm just focusing on the new season with Hertha.

After finishing third at Germany 2006 and second at EURO 2008, surely the sequence suggests you can lift the Trophy next year?
Unfortunately it's not that easy. There are several excellent teams who'll all have hopes of winning the Trophy, Germany included. At tournaments like the World Cup, everything needs to come together at the right time and everyone needs to stay fit. If that happens then I can't see any reason why we can't be successful. But first of all we need to qualify, then we'll see.