Group D, here we come – Germany looking favorites, hoping Michael Ballack won’t be missed, Ghana hoping to shock everyone and that their Michael, Essien, won’t be missed, Serbia wanting to forget about 2006 and build on their strong qualifying campaign and Australia, aging but strong, hoping for a ’06 repeat.
Despite Michael Ballack not performing like his pre-Chelsea days, his loss is still very big to the German squad, relying on his leadership since the 2002 World Cup, including a 2006 Semi’s and 2008 Euro Finals appearance. Still, the Germans, despite not booming in “natural” talents are a strong side and if all the key men click and perform well are tipped to reach the Semi Final if not further.
The squad is a very young one, with only Hans-Jorg Butt, Arne Friedrich and Miroslav Klose over 30. Manuel Neuer at goal had a very good season, but was probably going to be the second choice behind the injured Adler. The defense is strong and tall (Mertesacker) with Phillip Lahm, who had a very good season again with Bayern despite playing on his less favored flank (right). Germany’s middle will determine how far they’ll go, as Bastian Schweinsteiger, once a promising and talented winger, becomes the barometer to how good Germany will be. He’s involved in almost every play, and his ability to control the pace and deliver the right passes is crucial for German success, with Wonder-kid Mesut Ozil to bring on the more flashier side.
Joachim Low is probably hoping the Lukas Podolski forgets about the horrible season he had with Koln (2 league goals) and finds his happiness between the strikers and midfield. Upfront Low can go in two directions – strong in the air, powerful and slow (Klose and Gomez) or try to mix it up with Thomas Muller who had an excellent season for Bayern, despite his lack of concentration in front of goal at times (look up – Champions League Final), usually playing behind strikers. Germany have a good squad, strong and not flashy. Typical German, with a bit more of an offensive twist. For the group stage it will suffice. Later on? I believe in Germany going at least to the Semi’s.
Despite Dejan Stankovic and Vidic being the biggest names on the Serbian squad, Milan Jovanovic of Standard Liege and maybe (depending on which pundit you believe) Liverpool from next season is the squad best player and the one who’s ability will probably determine how far the Serbs will go. Milos Krasic provides the pace from opposite wings, and both players are Serbia’s biggest threat on goal, as Serbia possess a lot of height on attack, but both Zigic and Pantelic don’t tend to score a lot of goals. Set pieces on the other hand, with Vidic and Ivanovic joining from the back, and Nenad Milijas’ fantastic taking abilities, might provide a lot of headaches for opposing teams.
This time led by veteran Radomir Antic, who’s reputation was bigger in Spain than in his home country, Serbia will hope to erase the very disappointing 2006 campaign, ending in zero points and a 6-0 defeat to Argentina. The fantastic qualifying campaign, beating out France for the first place and the improvement during the warm up matches might mean the Serbs are in for a different ride than four years ago. My bet – make it through to the next round.
Don’t expect magic footballing shows from the Australians, but both Germany and Serbia will have to spit blood in order to beat Verbeek’s tough socceroos, who conceded only twice during their Asian qualifying campaign. Lucas Neill and Craig Moore might not be among the elite centre backs in the world, but Australia team defense is fantastic, Mark Schwarzer is absolutley brilliant the past two seasons and the Aussie’s tendency to hang back and defend with numbers mean that even on a bigger stage, scoring against them won’t be easy. What about scoring themselves? That’s a different story.
Australia have beaten New Zealand and Denmark in the preperations, but lost to the United States this weekend with Josh Kennedy missing comfortable chance after chance. No heir for Viduka apparntly. It might be him, or it might be Harry Kewell who’ll findthemselves in the lone striker position, with Verbeek fond with the 4-5-1. Tim Cahill’s scoring touch and the pressure he applys on opposing teams is Australia’s main attacking threat. Question is, will it be enough? I think Serbia will be the team joining Germany, but I’m not willing to count out Australia just yet.
How much will the Michael Essien injury affect them? It probably means the world to the Black Stars, with a squad semi based on the team the won the Under-20 World Cup last year. Ghana had a good Africa Cup of Nations, making it to the final before losing to Egypt and do possess tons of speed and strength in a squad that is more disciplined than a “typical” African side, with Milovan Rajevac responsible for the change. Still, the discipline, defense and overall build up was based on Essien. Now, he’s gone, and Kevin-Prince Boateng, who did Ghana a service by injuring Ballack in the FA Cup Final a few weeks ago, is the man in the middle. Rajevac has said he’s pleased with Boateng’s ability to fill in for Essien, but he’s not as defensive, and it remains to be seen how much of an offensive upgrade, if any, he brings with him.
Goals? That’s Asamoah Gyan’s department. Not quite the superstar some believed he’d be back in his teenager days, Gyan is still a very dangerous striker, netting 13 goals this season for Rennes and 19 in 38 matches for the national side. Udinese’s Kwadwo Asamoah will probably be his partner up front, with Muntari and Appiah supporting from behind. Enough for a second last 16 appearance? Hard to believe Ghana will make it out from the “real” group of “death”.
June 13th – Serbia – Ghana (Loftus Versfeld), Germany – Australia (Durban)
June 18th – Germany – Serbia (Nelson Mandela Bay)
June 19th – Ghana – Australia (Royal Bafokeng)
June 23rd – Ghana – Germany (Soccer City), Australia – Serbia (Mbomela)
The Australia – Serbia match on June 23rd seems to be the key matchup in the group, deciding who’ll join Germany.