Germany coach Joachim Low has revealed Sami Khedira is his first choice to replace Michael Ballack at the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ this summer.
Low said he will not be altering his system following the injury-enforced withdrawal of his captain, and Stuttgart midfielder Khedira has been earmarked to replace him. "It can be assumed that Khedira is the number-one candidate for this position," Low told Bild newspaper. "He has a great deal of potential and is a player who has already been given a lot of responsibility at Stuttgart. He also shows that he has matured."
Low spent some time talking to Khedira during the national team's training sessions in Sicily last week and it appears the former Under-21 captain will partner Bayern Munich's Bastian Schweinsteiger in the heart of the midfield in South Africa.
We have set ourselves the goal of playing a good World Cup and there is no point in building up the pressure by setting targets.
"I expect other players to take over accordingly," Low explained. "You have got to demand that. Bastian Schweinsteiger will have even more responsibility, for example, and also Philipp Lahm, Miroslav Klose and Per Mertesacker have got to exceed themselves.
"It is often the case that others step forward when a leading player drops out and this could also be the chance for other players. We need a reaction like that ahead of the World Cup," he said.
Low has yet to answer the question as to who will take Ballack's armband, although the aforementioned Bayern trio are among the favourites. "Philipp Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger are obviously candidates, but so too is Miro Klose - he has played the most international games," revealed Low.
Whoever leads the team onto the field will be doing so with the usual expectations of a nation which has won the title three times. However, Low is not eyeing the cup this time, especially with Ballack ruled out. "That is why we are not talking about the World Cup title," he said. "We have set ourselves the goal of playing a good World Cup and there is no point in building up the pressure by setting targets. Our first stage will be the group phase, which is going to be hard enough."
A question of numbers
Germany kick-off their campaign against Australia on 13 June and also face Serbia and Ghana in their group. The identity of Rene Adler's replacement in goal also remains a mystery which Low will only solve at the end of their second training camp in Sudtirol, which is now under way.
However, the players have already been given training equipment with a dedicated squad number, and Schalke goalkeeper Manuel Neuer has been confirmed as the number one. Werder Bremen's Tim Wiese has the number 12 and Bayern's Hans-Jorg Butt is number 23. However, Germany manager Oliver Bierhoff said: "The numbers don't give any indication at all about any ranking list."
Three players must still be trimmed from Low's current 26-man squad before Germany jet out to South Africa on 6 June. Meanwhile, Bayern's Germany internationals have been given time off by Low after last night's defeat in the Champions League final against Inter Milan.
Bayern went down to a 2-0 loss against Jose Mourinho's side at the Bernabeu and the club's national team stars were due to back in Bavaria today to take part in a procession to show off their Bundesliga and German Cup trophies. Klose, Mario Gomez, Holger Badstuber and Thomas Muller will then have an extra day off before linking up with the national team, while Lahm, Schweinsteiger and Butt do not have to travel to Italy until Wednesday.