Group D may not look the sexiest but I can assure you every game will matter significantly…for second place. With a powerhouse in Germany sitting atop the heap, Australia, Ghana, and Serbia would do well to take maximum points off each other to secure passage into the knockout rounds.
So let’s just get Germany out of the way shall we? The 3 time World Cup champions seem to know how to win in almost any tournament they play. Seeing as how any other tournament doesn’t matter for this conversation, they have progressed to the knockout rounds in every World Cup since 1982. They are a safer bet than Big Brown was going into the 2008 Preakness Stakes at 3/10 odds. But questions remain about this team. First off, why the hell did they schedule a game the other week against a local amateur team whom they thoroughly dispatched 24-0? World Cup prep? C’mon. How will they recover from the loss of team captain Michael Ballack? Now there’s a great question. His absence will leave a gaping hole in this squad – charisma, talent, and his mere presence on the field. Call him Mr. Germany if you’d like. Expect Sami Khedira to fill in alongside Bastian Schweinsteiger in the middle. Up front may be their main problem. Mario Gomez went from 24 goals 2 years ago to 10 this past season in his domestic campaign. Miroslav Klose scored a whopping 2 goals in 11 games. And Lukas Podolski? The man who returned to his hometown club of FC Koln to rejuvenate his career? 2 goals in 27 games. 2 goals. The only bright spot is Cacau who netter 13 goals in 19 starts for Stuttgart. At the back, suspect in the middle but you’ve gotta love little Philip Lahm who will take over captain duties. Remember, this guy scored the first and greatest goal of World Cup 2006 and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. U-P-P-E-R 9-0. All in all, no problem for Germany with the rest of the teams here.
Australia comes in with a lot of confidence from World Cup 2006 where they were eliminated on a last minute controversial penalty to Italy in the round of 16. Manager Pim Verbeek could very well field 10 of the 11 starters from that World Cup, which means one thing. Experience. Harry Kewell, out for the past 4 months with a groin injury, looks set to return to the midfield for the Socceroos. He will captain an attack featuring Everton star Tim Cahill that saw this team breeze through qualification with 12 goals in 8 matches. At the back, Lucas Neill will anchor a defense that allowed only 1 bloody goal in those 8 qualifying games. Between the posts stands Mr. Mark Schwarzer who enjoyed a roller coaster ride in Europe with Fulham this past season.
The Black Stars of Ghana are the perfect foil to Australia’s experience. In 2006 they fielded the youngest team in the tournament with an average age of just under 24 years old. Since then they have claimed the FIFA Under-20 World Cup championship in 2009. Amid all these young gentleman, however, are plenty of European based players with years of experience at the top level including Sulley Muntari and Gyan Asamoah. However like Germany, Ghana will be missing their rock in central midfield as Michael Essien has been ruled out due to injury. This is a heavy blow for this team and will ultimately leave them at the bottom of this group.
The fourth and final team in group D is Serbia. Sleeper of this tournament. If you were wondering who France finished second to in European qualifying, it’s these guys. This is Serbia’s 11th appearance in the World Cup (which includes the years when they played as Yugoslavia) and arguably their strongest squad in a long time. An extremely powerful midfield of Milan Jovanovic (the team’s leading scorer in qualifying with 6 goals), Milos Krasic of CSKA Moscow who made the Champions League his playpen this past season, and of course Dejan Stankovic. This guy is a bulldozer and one of the most physical midfielders you’ll see. Up front, how about 6’8 Nikola Zigic who is all over the news recently for his big move to Birmingham City. Weaknesses at the back? Not so much…Nemanja Vidic will sure up the middle with Branislav Ivanovic of Chelsea, coming off his best season yet, tearing down the flanks.
HOW IT WILL PAN OUT: Germany to top the group. I may have mentioned a scrum for the second spot but Serbia’s power and talent are too much for the other teams in this group.
GAME OF THE GROUP: Germany vs Ghana on June 23rd. The reason Ballack ain’t playin is because Ghana midfielder Kevin Prince Boateng destroyed him with this despicably late tackle in the FA Cup Final. Look for some retribution by the Germans in this one…