World Cup 2010 – Group D Preview

Is Group D really a powerhouse group?

Is Germany under threat of not making it out of the group or will Die Mannschaft reign supreme again?

Will Serbia be able to step out of the shadow of its former dual role with Montenegro and prove itself on the world stage?

Can Australia recapture some of the 2006 magic that saw it take eventual winners Italy to the brink and go on to the knockout rounds again?

How does Ghana fit into the equation? Can the Black Stars overcome the loss of their talismanic captain and be a contender?

What’s a little talk amongst friends, then? Knowing your stuff can make you look a little bit brighter amongst your peers and this handy-dandy list of people and information will make you the go-to guru of your local World Cup group.

Here’s some things you’ll need to know before June 11th.

Germany

It still may be The Team, but it certainly doesn’t look like the team. With injuries scrapping captain Michael Ballack from the team sheets, the middle of the park might be a glaring weakness for the Germans. Presumed number one keeper Rene Adler is also out, with the reigns possibly being handed to Manuel Neuer, a rising star in the European scene, but still extremely inexperienced on the national team stage (so is everyone else for that matter, including 36 year old Hans-Jorg Butt).

But Germany is never a side to let things like that deter them from the goal at hand. While Joachim Low’s never ending contract dispute might be a minor distraction to the manager, the players will go out every time expecting to win, the kind of mentality that has made them so hard to knock out of tournaments. The attack might be where the Germans take it to the opposition in order to cover some of the more understated deficiencies in the squad.

Players to Know

The Skipper: Phillip Lahm

The Bayern Munich right back is one of the remnants of the 2006 World Cup side that reached the semifinals and finished third. His defensive duties may wind up secondary to his ability to pillage down the right in support of the attack. The ability to control the ball through different parts of the field will make him useful in the event that the Germans find themselves down in any contest. He can also switch flanks if the need arises, as shown by the 2006 opener in which he drove down the left to hit that swerving volley and in Euro 2008 to finally knockoff the Turks late in the contest.

The Man: Bastian Schweinsteiger

Also a Bayern man, the midfielder is coming in to the tournament in possibly the best form of his career. He’ll need to be as he will be asked to take over where Ballack would normally sit, which means his attacking prowess might have to take a back seat at times in order for cover to be given to the backline. Make no mistake, though. If given the time to move forward, expect few to want to get into the way of the hard-hitting midfielder.

Others to Watch
: Lukas Podolski/Miroslav Klose/Thomas Muller, Mesut Ozil, Jerome Boateng

The attack force is probably one of the German’s best parts, although Klose and Podolski come in on the back of less than stellar season, especially Podolski, who was utterly ineffective at Cologne. This means Muller, an incredibly versatile Bayern player, might force his way into the starting XI. Ozil may takeover the playmaker position that Schweinsteiger might have had. The Werder Bremen man made a major impact for his side this year and is among the many up-and-coming members of a side that may be a major player…in four years time. Boateng gets special mention because brother Kevin-Prince opted to play for Ghana, not to mention was the man that took out Ballack in the F.A. Cup final. While the brotherly love may have to wait for a couple of hours, it might be interesting to see what happens if the rest of the team takes aim at his own flesh and blood. Another note about Boateng is that by signing with Manchester City, he is now the only player who does not ply his trade in a German squad (though technically you could argue that since he was coming out of the season in Germany, this still holds true).

Serbia

The BelI Orlovi is an interesting looking side. Much like European neighbors Slovenia, defense is the key to how well the White Owls look game in and game out. Unlike the Little Dragons, Serbia has monsters along the back. With steel in the midfield, it becomes a question not necessarily of if Serbia can escape Group D but whether or not they can make a decent run in the competition.

That will be answered partly on whether or not some one playing up front decides to put the ball in the back of the net. None of the front men come in on the backs of much playing time or form to speak of and even if the evident size combo provides options for the Owls, they must make them count when they get the opportunities, a la Jan Koller for the Czech Republic in the 2006 World Cup.

Players to Know

The Skipper: Dejan Stankovic

Only coming off a treble with Inter Milan, Stankovic is an interesting mix of attacking player that was used to fill a void in the defensive midfield for Inter. Noted for scoring long range bombs, Stankovic can move up when it is necessary but expect him to hang back as cover for the center of defense and looking to claim goal of the tournament honors if can catch hold of one.

The Man: Nemanja Vidic

The Manchester United central defender might be one of, if not the best, backline men in the world. Getting by the rock of the Owl defense was too tall a task for anyone in qualifying and should he continue to dominate opposing attack forces, might be the root cause of despair in many camps. In fact, his knowledge of many strikers from high ranking squads might prove an asset that keeps Serbia in the tournament far longer than many might expect.

Others to Watch: Vladimir Stojkovic, Nenad Milijas, Nikola Zigic

Stojkovic was loaned out to Wigan Athletic this term and provided the world a glimpse of his talent and madness, quite often one right after the other. Sometimes questionable decision making might be a potential issue if the backline is ever breached. With Stankovic probably hanging back, Milijas must be the attack-minded part of the midfield duo. The wings will often push forward and while Milijas might also be willing to hang back, he’ll need to be able to be the linking man to make sure their efforts are not for naught. Zigic, a 6’8″ forward, must prove that his goal scoring feats are not a thing of the past, as his time with Valencia has often been less than memorable, though his loan spell to Racing Santander proved to be a hit in the first half of the season.

Ghana

The Black Stars are certainly not out of the tournament without Michael Essien in the middle of the park. However, it becomes very likely that whatever team is on the field, there is a hole in the position. While Ghana made a respectable run in the African Cup of Nations, finishing second, the competition level is ratcheted up tenfold from there, as is the physicality of the contests.

Certainly there is a great deal of experience in this squad, with multiple components plying their trade throughout Europe. Making use of a 4-4-2 formation, the defensive mentality installed by Milovan Rajevac must be executed to perfection against three teams that will provide them multiple views. Keeping the defense from being exposed will be key for the African nation.

Players to Know

The Skipper: Stephen Appiah

When healthy, Appiah and Essien were a formidable duo in the middle of the park (ask the U.S. about that). Considering neither has played with any regularity lately, the absence will have at least allowed Ghana to consider the possibilities outside of the two. If Appiah can find some temporary form to work with, he can be a step in the right direction to fixing the defensive issues left behind by Essien. If not, his work ethic will still be missed.

The Man: Kevin-Prince Boateng

Having literally just dropped in for the summer, Boateng will be targeted by the Germans in their clash during the group stage, with the Boatengs at some point being forced to clash with one another. Even having just been cleared to join Ghana, he immediately upgrades the attack. A Boateng/Appiah combo might be enough to get some attention from the other squads in the group, but whether his temper can be kept in check might be something worth keeping an eye on.

Others to Watch: John (not Jonathan) Mensah, Kwadwo Asamoah, Asamoah Gyan

John Mensah has been a hit at Sunderland (when healthy, notice a theme here?) and will be the root of the backline for the Black Stars. His physical presence will be needed against the likes of the Aussies and the Owls of Serbia. Asamoah has been part of the platoon that has covered in the midfield and has been a versatile part of the Udinese midfielder, with Juventus showing interest. Playing towards the left, he might be allowed to go to the wing to create space in the center. Gyan is the forward of choice for the Black Stars and was critical in their push during the ACN, scoring three times in the competition. Keeping his emotions in check will be key, in order for a similar incident to the 2008 ACN not to occur again.

Australia

The Socceroos are aiming to repeat their success of 2006 with a team built to bust up anyone willing to try and play them straight up. That idea has come about in the few friendlies that have been played in the past few weeks. Featuring a 4-2-3-1 setup has allowed for Australia to cover its sometimes shaky defense with some serious steel in the midfield while asking the forward midfielders to create on the attack.

What they are aiming at is the subject of some debate, however. Since Mark Viduka left, there hasn’t been a true target man for the Aussies, a point of contention in this particular formation. Should someone fill that void, this team becomes very dangerous. If not, their reliance on the midfield may become a major hindrance, even if the midfield is pretty darn good.

Players to Know

The Skipper: Lucas Neill

In the back lies Neill, a familiar name to many in England for his time with Blackburn Rovers. Able to play in the center of defense as well as out to the left, Neill will be asked to be the heart of a defense that is likely to be physical and demand much of the teams it plays against. Who wins these continual clashes will be likely to win the matches at Neill must be continuously in the heat of battle to secure the defense.

The Man: Tim Cahill

Everyone’s favorite little big man, Cahill is a menace in the air for Everton and Australia. He is well known for knifing into the middle of a packed area and being the man to get his noggin’ on the ball. His timing is often the key and he will be asked to be the primary source of action in the midfield. Playing off the lone man up front, Cahill is deceptive but his trademark corner flag K.O. will be a welcome sight for the ‘Roos.

Others to Watch: Mark Schwarzer, Vincent Grella, Joshua Kennedy

Schwarzer has been the man in goal for Australia and Fulham and his experience in dealing with physical attacks will only aid the Aussies throughout the group stage. Still able to pull of strings of impressive saves, his skill is a massive asset to the squad. Grella is a no-nonsense midfielder currently employed by Sam Allardyce at Blackburn. As the friendlies (ironically) have shown, Grella is not taking prisoners and will make some midfielders and forwards think twice before crossing his path. Kennedy might be the best option in the lone forward spot and can score quite often, as his time with Nagoya Grampus in Japan has shown. Whether or not he can stand the punishment of being the only man up front remains to be seen.

The Matches

June 13th

Serbia v. Ghana
Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
10:00 AM EST

Germany v. Australia
Durban Stadium (Moses Mabhida Stadium), Durban
2:30 PM EST

June 18th

Germany v. Serbia
Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth
7:30 AM EST

June 19th

Ghana v. Australia
Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace, Phokeng
10:00 AM EST

June 23rd

Ghana v. Germany
Soccer City Stadium, Johannesburg
2:30 PM EST

Australia v. Serbia
Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit
2:30 PM EST

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