Schweinsteiger insists Spain are favourites

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Bastian Schweinsteiger insists Spain are the favourites for tomorrow's World Cup semi-final encounter in Durban, despite Germany being the most impressive team in South Africa so far.

The two European heavyweights have had contrasting runs to the last four.

Apart from a group stage blip against Serbia, Joachim Low's team have steamrollered almost every team that has crossed their path, including England and Argentina in the knockout stages.

The Spaniards, one of the pre-tournament favourites, have been far more subdued, battling their way through almost every round.

But Schweinsteiger insists the side that beat them in the Euro 2008 final two years ago are still "the better team on paper".

"Losing a final always causes frustration and disappointment but Spain were definitely the better team," the Bayern Munich midfielder said.

"On paper Spain are still the better team but I think we have shown in our last two games that we can beat teams that appear the better ones on paper.

"For me, Spain are the best team in the world. It will be tough just like it was against England and Argentina but I've a lot of faith in this team because we've seen what we can do if we all pull together."

The Germans, who came into the competition without being given much chance of winning, have silenced many of the doubters with their attacking brand of play, a change from previous years where they were known for their defensive prowess.

They are the leading scorers at the finals with 13 goals and new faces like Thomas Muller, Sami Khedira and Mesut Ozil have all been revelations.

Schweinsteiger continued: "Now we have fresh faces and different characters - an unencumbered state of mind.

"The younger players who have come in have gained experienced during this tournament.

"Spain haven't changed that much. Sergio Busquets has replaced Marcos Senna but otherwise they are pretty much the same team as two years ago."

Despite admitting full respect for the European champions, he acknowledged that they were not at their best in South Africa.

"Xavi, (Andres) Iniesta but also Xabi Alonso and (Gerard) Pique are great players but we still have a chance against them," he said.

"They are the decisive players for Spain because without them (David) Villa and (Fernando) Torres won't get the service needed to score goals.

"But Spain haven't really dazzled in the way that their fans might have hoped but they have still been winning. If we can play as a team, just as we have done so far, then we stand a very good chance."

Meanwhile, team manager Oliver Bierhoff has played down reports of a conflict developing in the Germany camp following comments by captain Philipp Lahm in the German media.

The defender, who was handed the armband after an injury to regular skipper Michael Ballack prior to the competition, told Bild newspaper the job had given him "a great deal of enjoyment" and he had no intention of easily relinquishing the role.

Former Chelsea midfielder Ballack had spent time with the team after quarter-final, but Bierhoff said: "We have freedom of speech in the team and need players willing to speak their mind.

"In the end, it is the coach who makes the decision over who is captain.

"There is no dissent whatsoever, not even a hint of conflict."

After visiting the team, Ballack returned home yesterday raising more questions as to whether he was forced to leave.

But Bierhoff added: "It's not the case, Ballack visited the team in Sicily before the tournament and it was always agreed that he would visit for the quarter-final.

"It is an unfortunate coincidence that Ballack's departure and Lahm's statement coincided."