Though Arne Friedrich made just four appearances for Germany during the qualification campaign for 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, most German fans could not imagine a national squad without him.
The pacey centre-back captained his country last week as Joachim Low’s charges eased to a 3-0 friendly victory over Malta – due in part to the unavailability of regular captain Michael Ballack, but also as a result of the high regard in which Friedrich is held by his colleagues.
"Jogi [Low] knows how I play and what he can expect from me. I think he also knows he can rely on me," said the defender in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com. "I’ve been a regular in the squad for years now." Indeed, only the likes of Ballack (98 caps), Miroslav Klose (94), Bastian Schweinsteiger (73) and Lukas Podolski (71) boast more international caps than the 1.85m stopper (70).
I want to win the World Cup if at all possible. Obviously I want to play as much as I can too.
Despite this, other names are often touted ahead of Friedrich in the defensive pecking order, though it is not something that appears to unduly bother the player. "It’s probably because I’m not so much of a public figure. That’s different internally, though," said Friedrich.
Turning to the summer
The Hertha Berlin captain had to endure the disappointment of relegation from the Bundesliga just a few weeks ago as the capital club finished bottom of the table. "There are several reasons for that – it’s a puzzle with many pieces. It would be pointless talking about that now. Unfortunately we couldn’t turn the ship around."
Friedrich is now focusing fully on the football highlight of the year, the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. "To win it would be a dream come true, but we’re not the favourites in South Africa," he said, before adding: "I’m concentrating solely on the national team and I want to win the World Cup if at all possible. Obviously I want to play as much as I can too." Friedrich also admitted to FIFA.com that his preferred position is in the centre as opposed to one of the flanks: "I think the coach sees me more as a central defender too."
I think Serbia are a very tricky side and Ghana could be just as dangerous.
Before Germany can begin dreaming of a fourth world title, they will need to successfully negotiate the group stage. "We must and will prevail," insisted Friedrich. Serbia, Ghana and Australia are their opponents in Group D, a difficult set of matches in the eyes of the Hertha skipper. "I think Serbia are a very tricky side and Ghana could be just as dangerous." The Germans’ second group game against the Balkan nation promises to be a fascinating encounter, not least because Friedrich’s club-mate Gojko Kacar is likely to start in attack for the Serbians. "We’ve already made a few jokes about it," smiled Friedrich.
One more goal
Perhaps the 30-year-old will even bring his unenviable record of being the most capped German international never to score a goal to an end in the Rainbow Nation. "I don’t mind," he laughed when reminded of the situation. "At least I’m top of one chart."
Looking back over his 70 appearances for the three-time world champions, one match stands out in particular. "My personal highlight would have to be the World Cup quarter-final against Argentina at the Olympiastadion in Berlin. The atmosphere was incredible and then we won the penalty shootout. I’ll never forget the moment Jens Lehmann saved that penalty."
Lehmann No1 shirt was expected to be worn by Rene Adler in South Africa, but the Leverkusen keeper has had to pull out of the tournament due to injury. "I spoke to Rene Adler. It’s a real shame, but he’s still young," says his compatriot.
Low’s new first-choice between the posts is set to be announced in the coming days, but one thing is already certain: whether at full-back or in the centre, Germany will have a defensive stalwart in Arne Friedrich when they take to the world's biggest stage next month.