Schweinsteiger hopes for fifth time lucky
After near-misses at four consecutive major international tournaments, Germany midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger symbolises a side hoping to finally make good on their potential in Sunday's World Cup final against Argentina.
Now a senior figure in Joachim Loew's team, Schweinsteiger's progression from flash, peroxide-haired winger to authoritative midfield general has mirrored Germany's remarkable rise over the last decade.
The 29-year-old is one of only four survivors from the Germany team that crashed in the group stage at the 2004 European Championship, alongside Miroslav Klose, Lukas Podolski, and Philipp Lahm.
Then aged 19, he and Podolski -- 'Schweini' and 'Poldi' -- were seen to represent a future that arrived sooner than scheduled in 2006, when Germany belied expectations to reach the semi-finals at their home World Cup.
Schweinsteiger was the man of the match in the third-place play-off against Portugal, scoring two long-range goals in a 3-1 win.
Two years later he overcame a group-stage sending-off against Croatia to star as Germany reached the final of Euro 2008, losing 1-0 to Spain, but he remained an enigmatic performer.
A child skiing prodigy, Schweinsteiger plumped for football after joining Bayern Munich as a 13-year-old, but as a teenager he had a reputation as an inveterate prankster.
As his profile rose in the international game, so he began to see the 'Schweini' nickname as an unwelcome reminder of unfulfilled expectations.
"At the start of my career, that nickname helped me a lot," he explained in 2012. "But everyone moves on. I'm a different person now."
The catalyst for his transformation was the arrival at Bayern in 2009 of Dutch winger Arjen Robben.
With France's Franck Ribery already on Bayern's books, it obliged Schweinsteiger to move into central midfield. By the time of the 2010 World Cup, he had made the position his own.
When national icon Michael Ballack was ruled out of the tournament by injury, Schweinsteiger stepped into the breach, slotting into midfield alongside Sami Khedira and helping steer Germany to the semi-finals.
They lost 1-0 to Spain, but Schweinsteiger's emergence as a central midfielder of world-class standing was no longer in doubt.
- 'Linchpin' -
In the quarter-final against Argentina he produced a masterclass, keeping Lionel Messi in his pocket and laying on two assists as Loew's effervescent side romped to a 4-0 win.
"He was the linchpin in every attack we had," said Loew. "A magnificent performance."
Schweinsteiger's stock has continued to rise in the years since, but each success has been weighed against a disappointment.
After the thrilling highs of 2010, Germany fell in the semi-finals again at Euro 2012, losing 2-1 to a Mario Balotelli-inspired Italy.
It completed a miserable summer for Schweinsteiger, who had missed the pivotal fifth penalty as Bayern lost to Chelsea in the Champions League final at their very own Allianz Arena.
They atoned a year later, beating Borussia Dortmund 2-1 in the final at Wembley Stadium to complete a glorious treble, but last season's Champions League brought fresh pain with a chastening 5-0 aggregate semi-final loss to Real Madrid.
An injury-riddled 2013-14 campaign meant that Schweinsteiger was eased into the World Cup, but since coming on as a substitute in the 2-2 group-stage draw with Ghana, he has been ever-present.
"I've been injured quite often and I've undergone (ankle) surgery twice," he said on Saturday.
"I had problems with my knee at the end of the season as well, so I'm extremely happy that everything's turned out well.
"I believe the coach has selected the right people. He gave me time until I was fully recovered and allowed me to get 100 percent ready."
Sunday's game at the Maracana will once again bring Schweinsteiger into direct opposition with Messi, but having subdued the Barcelona genius in Cape Town four years ago, the reunion will hold no fears.
"I'm quite confident for tomorrow (Sunday)," he said. "I'm really looking forward to it."