Injury-plagued Germany a vulnerable target: Group D
By QMI Agency
World Cup history: 17th appearance, 55 wins, 19 draws, 18 losses, 190 GF, 117 GA.
Best finish: Winners in 1954, 1974, 1990.
The oddsmakers say: 14/1.
Players to watch: D Philip Lahm; MF Bastian Schweinsteiger; F Lukas Podolski.
The skinny: Yes, key injuries to the likes of captain Michael Ballack and Heiko Westermann have significantly eroded the depth of the Germans. And yes, this might not be the most talented team they’ve ever fielded. Having said that, the Germans, much like the Italians, know how to grind their way deep into tournaments during times when they might be lacking a bit on the skill side. “There are six or seven teams around the world who play better (soccer) than we do,” defender Christoph Metzelder said. “So we need to bring other attributes into play.” Attributes like being able to overcome adversity. The team did exactly that last November after being informed that goaltender Robert Enke, having battled depression for years, committed suicide. Now, with Ballack set to miss the World Cup with an ankle injury, the Germans will need their resolve more than ever.
The outlook: While a group featuring Ghana, Australia and Serbia is arguably the second most difficult in the tournament next to Group G (Brazil, Portugal, Ivory Coast, North Korea), the Germans still have high expectations, whether their talent level is waning or not. They should at least get through to the round of 16, although a hiccup could leave them facing England in the second round.
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World Cup history: 12th appearance, 16 wins, 8 draws, 16 losses, 62 GF, 56 GA.
Best finish: Fourth place in 1930, 1962.
The oddsmakers say: 66/1.
Players to watch: MF Dejan Stankovich; D Nemanja Vidic; MF Milan Jovanovic.
The skinny: There is no way to put a positive spin on Serbia’s performance at the 2006 World Cup in Germany. They were humiliated, thumped, embarrassed ... you get the picture. The low point? A 6-0 drubbing at the hands of Argentina, which came on the heels of previous defeats to Ivory Coast and the Netherlands. Two years later, the Serbs missed out on qualifying for Euro 2008. Enter Radomir Antic, who came out of retirement to take over the team. Cue the turnaround. Suddenly the one-time sad sacks were re-energized, finishing ahead of France in qualifying. Now, with South Africa 2010 about to kick off, there is no shortage of experts picking the Serbs to win this group over injury-plagued Germany. It’s not as far-fetched a concept as some might think.
The outlook: The June 18th tilt against Germany in picturesque Port Elizabeth could determine who wins this group. Ghana and Australia will be formidable foes too, so it will be imperative for the Serbs to get off to a good start.
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World Cup history: Third appearance, 1 win, 2 draws, 4 losses, 5 GF-11 GA.
Best finish: Round of 16, 2006.
The oddsmakers say: 150/1.
Players to watch: MF Tim Cahill; F Harry Kewell; G Mark Schwarzer.
The skinny: We’ll say this for those fun-loving Aussies: They adore their Socceroos. This was quite evident during the 2006 World Cup in Germany when 12 million Australians — more than half the population of the country — watched the competition. What they saw was their beloved Roos march into the Round of 16, where their run ended against Italy on a dubious late-game penalty. The roster is primarily the same as the one that got through the first round four years ago. This time around, a smothering defence seems to be the key. The Roos surrendered just one goal in eight qualifying games, fuelling optimism within the Australian dressing room that a quarter-final berth is a realistic goal.
The outlook: The Aussies must have been encouraged upon hearing the news that Michael Essien, Ghana’s best player, had been hurt and would miss the entire World Cup. The Roos need any advantage they can get in this group which appears to be wide open, given the recent injury woes of the Germans.
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World Cup history: Second Appearance, 2 wins, 0 draws, 2 losses, 4 GF, 6 GA.
Best finish: Round of 16, 2006.
The oddsmakers say: 100/1.
Players to watch: F Asamoah Gyan; MF Sully Muntari; F Matthew Amoah.
The skinny: Of all the pre-tournament injuries suffered to prominent players on World Cup teams, perhaps the most devastating one to any side involves Chelsea midfielder Michael Essien. Injured back in January while practising with Ghana for the African Cup of Nations, Essien’s hopes of being back in time for South Africa 2010 were scuttled when he didn’t recover as quickly as hoped. Ironically, the initial diagnosis suggested the injury was relatively minor and would only keep him out four-to-six weeks. Instead, the torn meniscus in his left knee was worse than first thought, leaving Ghana with a huge hole in its midfield. With Essian out, Ghana has gone from a darkhorse to a long-shot, even with the pro-African throngs cheering them on.
The outlook: Known as the “Black Stars,” Ghana’s dream of winning this group suffered a huge blow with the Essien injury. There is still enough talent here to sneak into second place and advance, but it won’t be easy.