The first game of a World Cup campaign is, in the footballers' lexicon, always "massive". Today's tie between Germany and Australia at the Moses Mahiba Stadium will be no different – "it is like a final", said Aussie midfielder Carl Valeri – but neither team should have any trouble keeping the occasion in perspective.
In November, Robert Enke, who was in line to keep goal for Germany in this World Cup, committed suicide by walking in front of a train near Hanover. It later emerged that the 32-year-old had been suffering from depression for several years. He and wife Teresa had lost a two-year-old daughter through a rare heart condition and Enke was concerned their adopted daughter Leila would be taken from them if his illness became publicly known.
Last week, Brad Jones, one of the goalkeepers in the Australian squad, went home after his four-year-old son, Luca, was diagnosed with leukaemia. Jones said on Friday he would not be returning and Eugene Galekovic, of Adelaide United, was drafted in to replace the Middlesbrough goalkeeper.
"The World Cup is irrelevant for me now," Jones said in confirming he would not be returning to South Africa. "When I walked into the room and Luca smiled when he saw me, that was worth more than anything the World Cup could give me."
Both teams will seek to draw inspiration from their colleagues' suffering, as football teams do. Australia's captain, former West Ham and Everton defender Lucas Neill, said earlier this week that Jones' bad news had "galvanised the team" and given them "that extra inspiration we needed".
Come kick-off, however, all minds will be on the contest. German coach Joachim Low has already raised the temperature by calling upon his players to "embarrass" opponents and suggesting Australia will be "boring". The Aussies do have a more defensive outlook under Pim Verbeek than his compatriot Guus Hiddink but, given the dearth of attacking resources, they have little choice. With no obvious centre-forward, Harry Kewell is expected to lead the line, with support from Tim Cahill, now recovered from a neck injury that forced him to train alone.
Neill, leaving no cliché unspoken, yesterday promised the green-and-gold would show their traditional spirit and fight "from the first second to the last".
They will not lack for support. Australian supporters have crossed the Indian Ocean in their thousands, with many camped in a tent city set up at Kingsmead, the cricket ground where Kevin Pietersen first came to prominence. During the day they are at the fan park which, in a home-from-home, has been set up on the beach.
The German support is less visible but probably more confident. Since re-unification, Germany have won all five opening matches at the World Cup and must be favoured to win a sixth despite the loss of several players to injury, notably Michael Ballack. If they win the tournament they will not be as well rewarded as they would have been when hosting four years ago. German bonuses have been cut from 300,000 euros a man to 250,000 – the difference presumably is funding the Greek bail-out.
Low must decide whether to stick with Miroslav Klose in attack after a largely barren league season with Bayern Munich. Cacau and Mario Gomez are alternatives in what is expected to be a 4-2-3-1 formation. Sami Khedira, of Stuttgart, is likely to deputise for Ballack in a holding role alongside the versatile Bastian Schweinsteiger. Inspiration is sought from young Mezut Ozil. In defence, Jerome Boateng, Manchester City's new £11m signing, is expected to line up in central defence.
Germany (4-5-1): Butt; Friedrich, Boateng, Mertesacker, Lahm; Muller, Schweinsteiger, Khedira, Ozil, Podolski; Klose.
Australia (4-2-3-1): Schwarzer; Wilkshire, Neill, Moore, Chipperfield; Grella, Culina; Emerton, Cahill, Bresciano; Kewell.
Referee: M Rodriguez (Mexico).Reuse content