Friday, May 28, 2010

Group D preview!

Group D maybe the one of the hardest groups to preview, as every team in this group is capable of making it to the round of 16. The group is headlined by European power Germany who normally are favorites in win every World Cup. The group also houses one of the African pre tournament favorites Ghana, who is coming off the high of winning the World U-20 world cup earlier this year in Egypt. After controversy helped to eliminate the Australia from the 2006 Cup, they are back in this group with alot to prove. However this could end in disaster for them if they are unable to unlock a very stingy back 4 of Serbia.

The 3 time champions enter this year's tournament in the unfamiliar position of not being favorites to win the whole thing. Many are sleeping on the European giants as the squad is starting to age. Also the loss of captain Michael Ballack due to injury is a massive blow to the team as they rely on him to sheppard much of the play. With that said this is still a very dangerous team that has the talent, and the experience needed to make a long run in the tournament.

Germany somewhat surprised the field on home soil in 2006, making it to the semi finals before losing in a thriller to eventual champions Italy. They got there by playing classic German style football. Efficient, strong defending at the back coupled with excellent build up play via the wings and into the forwards. Both Midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger and Left wing back, and new team captain Phillip Lahm are keys to the build up play. For Germany to progress further, manager Joachim Low will need both players on top form. Upfront Low has stayed with his 3 trusted strikers in Miroslav Klose, Lukas Podolski and Mario Gomez. Klose & Podolski have been main stays on the squad, with Klose being the second highest German goal scored of all time. Expect him to pop up with a few massive goals.

Defensively the Germans will be strong with a very experienced back 4 lead by the above mentioned Lahm and centre back Per Mertesacker. The only concern maybe between the posts as the trio of Han-Jorg Butt, Manuel Neuer and Tim Wiese have only a combined 8 international caps between them. As previous World Cups have shown having a strong experienced goal keeper can be the difference between the round of 16 and reaching the final.

This will be the country's 2nd appearance at the World Cup. In 2006 they competed as Serbia-Montenergo, and has previously been to the tournament under the old Yugoslavia. Manager Radomir Antic brings a very strong healthy squad to South Africa after the best qualifying campaign in its history. Serbia finished first in a qualifying group that was expected to be dominated by France. The squad highly impressed in which they scored 22 goals in 10 games while only conceding 8. This telling stat highlights Serbia's two strengths, its ability to score (Especially off set pieces) and its solid uncompromising defence.

Three players hold the key to this rapid transition from defence to offence. At the back Manchester United defender Nemanja Vidic, and two midfielders Milos Krasic and captian Dejan Stankovic. Vidic is considered to be one of the hardest defenders in the world to play against. The defensive line he leads were able to shut down the very gifted attackers from France during qualifying. From the midfield perspective Stankovic holds up play from his deep lying role just in front of the defenders. He controls the play and can pick out the telling pass to play in one of the more advanced midfielders like Krasic. Wonderfully skilled with the ability to either find the strikers in good areas to score, or create space for himself to take a shot on net Krasic is a player who could move into the elite status of players with a strong showing at the tournament.

This squad could be set for big things should it be able to get out of the group, however it will be very difficult for them as every team in group D has the talent to move to the next round.

The Black Stars along with the Ivory Coast in 2006 served notice to the rest of the footballing world that African football is very close to making a deep run in the World Cup tournament. They showed excellent work rate in the midfield and had the ability to go forward at will, just ask the U.S. Ghana also dispelled the long running and frankly ridiculous thought that African teams could not play defence. As in 2006 Ghana brings a strong team to South Africa having been the first African team to qualify. This year's squad will also draw strength from the U-20 team that just won the U-20 world cup over Brazil at the beginning of the year.

Ghana play attacking football, always looking to go forward through its midfield. The unquestioned leader of this team is Chelsea midfielder Michael Essien. He is the complete midfielder, he can either set up the attack with killer passes or the rocket of a shot he has. Or he can drop back a help defend, sitting in front of the back 4 and be a midfield destroyer. Either way he influences how the rest of the team play. Which is why his recent injury concern could be a massive blow to the squad, maybe more than Ballack's loss to Germany.

If Essien cannot play, then Stephen Appiah, Sulley Muntari and Asamoah Gyan must step up to carry this team if it wants to make the round of 16. Gyan must be more visible up front then he was in 2006, mind you at the time he was only 20 and with 4 more years of experience he's expected to score often. Muntari will have to move into the destroyer role in the midfield should Essien not be fit enough. He has performed well at his club team Inter Milan and he must transfer that form into the World Cup. As for Stephen Appiah he will have to step into the captaincy while Essien is out, he is a sold play maker who can play up front if need be. Appiah will have to create the majority of the chances for the strikers in order for Ghana to have a chance.

There's no doubt that the Black Stars will be buoyed by a defacto home crowd, as Ghana supporters travel well. I believe this can be enough to get them through to the next round, however they will have to find ways to manufacture goals should their midfield general not be able to suit up.

This will be the second straight World Cup for the Socceroos who will be looking to make the same impact they did 4 years ago. In order to be better prepared the Australian F.A decided to move out of the super easy Oceania Football Confederation and into the more difficult Asian Football Confederation. The move didn't slow them down as they were one of the first countries to qualify for this year's tournament. On paper this doesen't look like a team that would be able to move out of this group, but what the stats don't show is this team ability to win big games.

Under manager Pim Verbeek the Socceroos have enjoyed success at both the Asian Cup and Asian qualifying. However the question is can he lead them to victoty at the World Cup level? If this is to happen he needs star players like Tim Cahill, Brett Emerton and Harry Kewell to have massive tournaments. Cahill will need to be as effective a goal scored as he is of Everton in the EPL, in order for Australia to advance.

The fact that Cahill who is a midfielder will have to score the majority of the goals exposes Australia's biggest problem, they lack a true goal scorer. Upfront the squad is woefully thin, as none of the forwards named by Verbeek in his preliminary squad has more than 6 international goals. I have not included Kewell as a forward as he is really a left sided midfielder. This is a weakness that if not covered up by Kewell and Cahill, will leave the socceroos at the bottom of the group.

Germany dispite the doubts are just too strong not to win the group, so the race is for the second spot and I'm giving it to...Serbia. This was a very tuff one for me to choose as when I first started writing this post I was convinced Ghana was going through. However if the report of Essien being out for the whole tournament is true then I see a very differnt Black Stars team, and after checking out Serbia's record and final squad I had to give them the slight edge.

Next up Group E!


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