Group D should provide footie fans with some of the more entertaining play in the group stages of South Africa 2010. The Germans, as always, are favored to advance. It’s the team that joins them in the knockout rounds that is open to debate. Both Ghana and Australia advanced past the group stage 4 years ago and have aspirations and the talent to do the same. The Serbians have competed in the tournament before, but never as an independent nation. They want nothing more than to trumpet their arrival by moving past the group stage. This may not be labeled the Group of Death, but it is darn close. And with the losses of two Michaels: Essien and Ballack, this group just got a whole lot more interesting.
June 13 – 10:00 AM EDT Serbia -- Ghana // Pretoria
June 13 – 2:30 PM EDT Germany -- Australia // Durban
June 18 – 6:30 AM EDT Germany -- Serbia // Port Elizabeth
June 19 – 9:00 AM EDT Ghana -- Australia // Rustenburg
June 23 – 2:30 PM EDT Ghana -- Germany // Johannesburg
June 23 – 2:30 PM EDT Australia -- Serbia // Nelspruit
World Cup Appearances: 17
Best Finish: Champions, 1954, 1974, 1990
Coach: Joachim Löw
The Germans have provided plenty of memories, in both victory and defeat, as they have played in a host of the world cup’s greatest games. But winning the title at home has to trump them all -- and they did just that in 1974.
Die Mannschaft was dealt a cruel blow as their Captain, leader, and beating heart, Michael Ballack, will miss the tournament with an ankle injury. Löw will have to look to other World Cup veterans to fill the leadership chasm, and who better than Miroslav Klose . The striker has struggled this year at Bayern, but has captained Germany before and has also scored 5 times in each of the last two World Cups.
How many soccer axioms end with the phrase …and the Germans always win? There’s a reason for that: the Germans always win. Can Germany ever be counted out? If Germany has a great team, they are a shoo-in for the finals. If they are average (by their standards), then they still might make it to the finals. Even without Ballack, the Germans are solid, but not spectacular. But they are always solid. If they start playing spectacularly, then look out.
On the topic of “Germany always wins”: Germany has gone to penalty kicks 4 times in the World Cup. And 4 times the Germans have come out on top.
World Cup Appearances: 3
Best Finish: Round of 16, 2006
Coach: Pim Verbeek (Holland)
World Cup memories:
It took Australia 32 years to make their second World Cup in 2006. Harry Kewell made sure the wait was worth it when his equalizer vaulted Australia past Croatia and into the knockouts.
Tim Cahill is reaching the World Cup at the absolute peak of his powers. The Everton man leads a group of talented Aussies who have one World Cup’s worth of experience to build on.
Australia is playing in only its third world cup, but expect the Socceroos to become a World Cup mainstay with their shift to the Asian Confederation. For this World Cup, though, Coach Pim Verbeek can build on the foundation left behind by the Dutch master, Guus Hiddink. Australia is a battle-tested, veteran team, but that knife cuts both ways. The Aussies can beat anyone in the group, but how much game are those creaky legs going to have in ‘em?
The Aussies played teams from 3 different continents as they tried to qualify for Mexico 70. They advanced past Japan, Korea, and Rhodesia, but succumbed to Israel in the final playoff.
World Cup Appearances: 1
(but 11 if you count their appearances as Yugoslavia and Serbia & Montenegro)
Best Finish: Semifinalist, 1930, 1962 (as Yugoslavia)
Coach: Radomir Antic
Since this is Serbia’s first time at the party as an independent nation, the White Eagles are poised to make new memories for their fans. But it wouldn’t hurt to relive some past glory. Serbian Dragan Stojkovic devastated Spanish fans with a superb free kick in Italia 90.
The Serbs will have to deal with the loss of Ivica Dragutinovic, who tore his Achilles tendon during a Sevilla training session. That heaps more pressure on Manchester United’s central defender, Nemanja Vidic. As one of the world’s best defenders, Vidic should have no problem absorbing the loss of one his mates.
Call it what you want: Yugoslavia, Serbia, Serbia and Montenegro… whatever the name, they have a very proud footie tradition, and they were embarrassed in 2006. History should not repeat itself. Serbia has a rock solid defense and creative midfielders, but they lack that classic finisher. It may not be that much of a problem. Teams will find it difficult to score against the Serbs. And the Serbs have quality midfielders that will lie in the weeds and patiently choose their spots. Serbia is a classic dark horse.
Serbia is one of two Eastern European countries whose clubs have won the UEFA Champions League. In 1991, Red Star Belgrade hoisted the cup.
World Cup Appearances: 2
Best Finish: Round of 16, 2006
Coach: Milovan Rajevac (Serbia)
Ghana finally qualified for the World Cup for the first time in 2006, and the Black Stars showed why they have been one of Africa’s strongest sides, defeating both the Czech Republic and the USA on their way to the knockouts.
Few teams are as dependent on one player as Ghana is with Michael Essien. Unfortunately, for Ghana, the Chelsea midfielder has been ruled out of the tournament. There are very few midfielders in the world that cover as much space as Essien. It is devastating loss for Ghana and for the World Cup.
Ghana’s hopes for advancing aren’t entirely dependent on whether or not Essien plays. OK, their hope for advancing depends entirely on the health of Michael Essien. When healthy, the Essien, Appiah pairing in the middle is on par with the world’s best midfield duos. Do the Ghanaians have a suitable replacement? Do Appiah and Muntari have what it takes to pick up the slack? These are not the questions Rajevac wanted to answer as he prepares Ghana for the tournament.
Ghana was only the third African team to advance past the group stage in their World Cup Debut in 2006. Nigeria and Senegal were the others.