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Klinsmann backs Germany

BERLIN, June 3 – Ex-national coach Jurgen Klinsmann insisted on Wednesday that Germany are among the favourites to win the World Cup, despite the unavailability of captain Michael Ballack.Ballack has been ruled out with an ankle injury and in his absence, Bayern Munich defender Philipp Lahm will lead his country in Group D against Australia, Serbia and Ghana when the World Cup starts on June 11.

But Klinsmann, who coached Germany to third place at the last World Cup, says the side can cope without their leader and could bring home their fourth World Cup title from South Africa.

"Michael’s injury is obviously a severe blow, he has been our leader par excellence for years and it will be hard to fill the vacuum," Klinsmann told German TV channel RTL, who he will work for as a World Cup pundit.

"But we can still produce a good tournament in South Africa. Germany are always among the favorites. We have a strong team and we have nothing to fear."

With Lahm taking over the captain’s armband and Bastian Schweinsteiger as his deputy, Klinsmann says the Germany team have plenty of experienced players who can step up to the challenge.

For players like Lahm, Schweinsteiger and defender Per Mertesacker, it is "the first step towards handing over responsibility to the next generation," said Klinsmann.

"They have the potential, for some of those guys it is their third tournament and they already have over 50 international matches behind them."

Having led his country to victory over Portugal in the third-place play-off four years ago, Klinsmann says the current Germany team must seize the moment.

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"The World Cup only takes place every four years, so we can’t afford to miss this moment," he said. "All egos have to be forgotten.

"Expectations are always high, even if we get to the quarter-finals, that will be viewed as a disappointment."

Germany reached the final of Euro 2008, where they lost 1-0 to Spain in Vienna, and Klinsmann says he sees no reason why the national side cannot produce another impressive performance.

"If they play like they did at the Euro, they will be very hard to beat," said Klinsmann.

Klinsmann is also tipping Argentina, Brazil, the Netherlands and England to challenge for the World Cup, but he says defending world champions Italy are not as strong as four years ago.

Having been sacked as coach by Bayern Munich in April 2009 after just 10 months in charge, Klinsmann says he has no firm plans to return to coaching.

"All doors are open, anything is possible" said the 45-year-old.

"In football, things can happen overnight, I am curious what will happen in South Africa first of all."

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