German's rich pedigree casts large shadow
World Cup: 2010
At the German training camp near Pretoria
Sunday's classic contest between England and Germany is not only a battle to decide who reaches the quarter-finals of this World Cup. The game in Bloemfontein also presents an opportunity to assess the ideological and cultural differences between these two great footballing rivals.
Ever since England's heartbreaking semi-final defeat by West Germany in Italy in 1990, English football has undergone a commercial revolution which has made the Premier League the richest in the world.
On the plus side, that financial success, created by the breakaway of the Premier League in 1992, has helped finance a vast improvement in the nation's stadiums, more entertaining football and allowed English clubs to become the most consistently successful in the Champions League over the last decade.
This has been thanks, in no small part, to relaxed ownership regulations that allowed new billionaire owners to buy clubs and then splash out eye-watering sums to pay foreign stars massive salaries.
But, at the same time, the English national team has gone backwards. Despite the Football Association enjoying its own substantial growth in revenues on the back of the game's television rights boom, it seems money has had a negative impact on the health of the English team.
The Germans, on the other hand, have gone from strength to strength. Although they have not won the World Cup since 1990, their rich tournament pedigree speaks volumes. They also won the 2008 Under-19 European Championships and the 2010 Under- 21 European Championships, although it is worth adding that England's Under-17 team have just won the European title.
The Bundesliga is still one of the wealthiest leagues in Europe, but it makes £500m a year less than the Premier League. Despite that, it invests £20m more in its youth academy system and its 18 clubs in 2009 made an operating profit of £146m - £66m more than the combined operating profits of the 20 Premier League clubs.
The Bundesliga's approach to financial regulation and ownership is much stricter than its English rival. While the Premier League is only now tightening its rules in the wake of Portsmouth's financial collapse, German clubs operate on the 50+1 principle - no single person or entity can own more than 49% as 51% of each club must be owned by its members.
Also, while debt levels have exploded in the English game with a combination of bank debt and so-called 'soft loans' from owners and directors contributing to a staggering total of £3.3bn according to Deloitte, German clubs owe just £30m. It must be stated here that most German clubs do not own their grounds and therefore do not have assets to borrow against (and some clubs would like these tough rules relaxed) but the difference in debt levels is striking.
The key word is sustainability and while the Premier League is just starting to understand why this is important, English football is many years behind Germany.
All very interesting, but why should the German model have any bearing on the strength of the German national team?
Answer: Because it demonstrates that the Deutscher Fussball Bund (DFB) has a far firmer control of the way the game is run than England's own FA, which long ago ceded financial control of the game to the Premier League.
A far healthier balance of power exists between the Bundesliga and the DFB, allowing them to put the wider interests of the game first - and ultimately every four years that means the German World Cup squad.
For example, German clubs must pick 12 home-grown players in their matchday squads, whereas the Premier League conforms to Uefa's rule of eight out of a 25-man squad - and even then that can mean including foreign nationals as long as they have trained for three years at a Premier League club's academy.
The German academy system educates 5,000 players between the age of 12 and 18. As a consequence, the number of German under-23-year-olds playing regularly in the Bundesliga is 15% - up from 6% a decade ago.
This is reflected in the youthful make-up of the German team here in South Africa. This is the youngest team (average age 25) they have sent to a World Cup since 1934. England by way of contrast have sent their oldest in history (28).
I asked Wolfgang Niersbach, the general secretary of the DFB, why it was that the Germany was so consistent at major tournaments.
"I wouldn't go so far as to say the German national team always comes first because during the club season the Bundesliga must come first," he said. "But what I would say is the relationship between the DFB and the League is very close and we work together. Sure, there are discussions, but in the end we always make sure the right decisions are made for the German team."
This includes a winter break - something former England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson fought for during his time in charge but which was ultimately rejected due to the crammed domestic season in England. German legend Franz Beckenbauer suggested on Thursday that the lack of the break was one of the reasons why England looked "burned out" here.
Many of these structural and ideological differences may count for nothing once the two teams take to the pitch on Sunday afternoon. But should Germany triumph, they will undoubtedly form part of the inquest which follows.