Germany face early test of mettle
'Group of death' may be a well-worn tournament standard but it is an epithet that could apply to this section. Germany, who share the record for most FIFA World Cup™ finals with Brazil, will cast a shadow over their rivals' preparations given their tradition of high achievement at this level. Yet the semi-finalists from 2006 were hardly alone in taking the fast lane to South Africa, with Australia, Ghana and Serbia all reigning supreme in their qualifying pools. The first two of those sides also gave eye-catching performances four years ago and are unlikely to stand on ceremony here, while Serbia's talent production has never been in doubt.
Germany: Joachim Low's team are not top seeds for nothing. They showed their form in a clinical and unyielding Group 4 qualifying campaign in which the seven-goal Miroslav Klose, Michael Ballack and company accounted for Guus Hiddink’s Russia. Given also their seemingly effortless march to the last UEFA European Championship final, in 2008, you can expect another show of class from the seven-time FIFA World Cup finalists and three-time winners.
Ghana: As the first African team to reach the 2010 finals and their continent's only representative in the knockout rounds of the last FIFA World Cup – when they made an impressive tournament debut – Ghana arguably merit the tag of second favourites in this pool. Coach Milovan Rajevac's Black Stars easily navigated the final round of African qualification, losing a goal and a game only after the job was done. The midfield trio of Michael Essien, Sulley Muntari and Stephen Appiah could make them a match for anyone.
Serbia: Radomir Antic's men were last out of the hat in the Group D draw but should not be taken lightly. The White Eagles beat France to pole position in their qualifying section, earning Serbia's maiden FIFA World Cup appearance as an independent entity with a 5-0 thrashing of Romania. Any side boasting the talents of Nemanja Vidic, Dejan Stankovic and Milan Jovanovic deserves respect; add the historical pedigree of a nation with ten previous FIFA World Cup appearances (as Yugoslavia, and Serbia and Montenegro) and you have definite dark-horse material.
Australia: It took the Socceroos 32 years to regain the world stage they had first trod in 1974. But, four summers on from their impressive showing under Hiddink in Germany, the Australians make a quick return to the elite tournament. Now under the tutelage of another canny Dutchman, Pim Verbeek, this pragmatic and strong-willed outfit made smooth progress through their debut Asian qualification competition after the decision to leave the Oceania group. They finished well clear of Japan in the final stage.
The players to watch
Miroslav Klose (GER), Tim Cahill (AUS), Matthew Amoah (GHA), Michael Essien (GHA), Milan Jovanovic (SRB), Marko Pantelic (SRB)
The crunch match
Ghana-Australia: With Australia starting their campaign against Germany, this match will be central to the hopes of a Socceroos side who, like Ghana, will realistically be targeting second place. It is a game the Black Stars won’t want to lose either, given they finish off against Germany.
A look back
Australia-West Germany, 18 June 1974: Hamburg's Volksparkstadion was the stage when the countries met at the 1974 tournament. It was their second outing of the group stage and, perhaps unsurprisingly, the hosts prevailed by 3-0 against the upstarts from Oceania. Wolfgang Overath, Bernd Cullmann and Gerd Mueller scored for the eventual champions. For Australia, there would be the consolation of a point against Chile in their closing encounter.
4 – Germany have contested four penalty shoot-outs at the FIFA World Cup, winning them all.
Did you know?
Australia goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer may have been born in Sydney but his parents are German and he played for Dynamo Dresden and Kaiserslautern after leaving his home country to try his luck in Europe.
No European nation has lifted the FIFA World Cup trophy on another continent. Can Germany or Serbia achieve a historic first? Click 'Add your comment' to make your opinion known.