The contenders: Germany
Our analysis of FIFA's top-ranked teams continues as we count down the days to South Africa-Mexico next Friday.
So far, we previewed: 9) France | 8) England | 7) Argentina
Today's featured team is arguably the most consistently brilliant group in World Cup history.
Group: D - Australia, Serbia, Ghana
World Cup history: 3 titles (1954, 1974, 1990); The Germans are the model of consistency, having advanced to the quaterfinals of the World Cup an unprecedented 14 straight times since winning it all in 1954.
5 key players: Philip Lahm (Bayern Munich), Bastian Schweinsteiger (Bayern Munich), Miroslav Klose (Bayern Munich), Mesut Ozil (Werder Bremen), Lukas Podolski (FC Cologne)
>> Read about Bastian Schweinsteiger and other players to watch at the 2010 World Cup
Coach: Joachim Loew
Outlook: The loss of captain Michael Ballack has put Germany in jeopardy of breaking one of the most impressive streaks in World Cup history. A dangerous group stage awaits the Germans, who have advanced to the quarterfinals in 14 straight tournaments. Head coach Joachim Loew -- an assistant to Jurgen Klinsmann in 2006 -- has his hands full trying to keep the streak alive.
Newly appointed captain Philipp Lahm will lead the troops in Ballack's place. Lahm is one of the best flank defenders in the world and is remembered for scoring the first goal for Germany at the World Cup in 2006 just five minutes into its opener against Costa Rica. Midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger is a serious threat pushing forward and is coming off the best club season of his career at Bayern Munich.
The offense, however, is not what it used to be, with Miroslav Klose coming off the bench for much of this season at Bayern. Klose was the leading scorer at the last World Cup and is tied for seventh all time with 10 World Cup goals. If Klose can't carry the scoring load this year, 20-year-old Thomas Muller and Lukas Podolski -- who was the 2006 tournament's Best Young Player -- will be leaned upon to spark the attack.
Like England, all of Germany's players hail from its own country's top league. The Bundesliga is one of the best and most respected leagues in the world. Germany will miss Ballack's presence in the middle, but has the poise and organization to advance, as always.
Prediction: Serbia will edge the Germans, but they'll take second in the group and advance to set up a high-profile, second-round match against England.
Goalkeepers: Hans-Joerg Butt (Bayern Munich), Manuel Neuer (Schalke), Tim Wiese (Werder Bremen)
Defenders: Dennis Aogo (Hamburger SV), Holger Badstuber (Bayern Munich), Arne Friedrich (Hertha Berlin), Jerome Boateng (Hamburger SV), Marcell Jansen (Hamburger SV), Philipp Lahm (Bayern Munich), Per Mertesacker (Werder Bremen), Serdar Tasci (Stuttgart)
Midfielders: Sami Khedira (Stuttgart), Toni Kroos (Bayer Leverkusen), Marko Marin (Werder Bremen), Mesut Ozil (Werder Bremen), Bastian Schweinsteiger (Bayern Munich), Piotr Trochowski (Hamburger SV)
Forwards: Cacau (Stuttgart), Mario Gomez (Bayern Munich), Stefan Kiessling (Bayer Leverkusen), Miroslav Klose (Bayern Munich), Thomas Mueller (Bayern Munich), Lukas Podolski (FC Cologne)