The 2010 FIFA World Cup kicks off in five weeks today, close enough to feel the disappointment. Today we continue our preview of this summer’s tournament with a look at the prospects for the teams in Group D: Germany, Australia, Serbia and Ghana. No doubt drawing numerous questionable conclusions along the way will be your regular guide, the increasingly excitable Dotmund.
Qualification 1st place in UEFA Group 4 FIFA Ranking 6 Best World Cup Winners (1954, 1974 and 1990 (as West Germany)) Last World CupHead coach Joachim Löw (since July 2006) Most capped player Lothar Matthäus 150 (1980-2000) Top goalscorer Gerd Müller 68 (1966-1974). Third place (P7 W5 D1 L1 F14 A6 (2006))
As usual, Germany breezed through qualifying, finishing their group – which also contained Russia – unbeaten. It’s become par for the course once again for a team who, throughout the late-1990s and early-2000s were showing real signs of tiredness and atrophy. Even at their lowest point during those lean years, however, only a fool would ever have discounted them. With the renaissance of German football still in full swing, thanks in no small part to their hosting of the previous World Cup tournament, they are getting back to their formidable, if not imperious, best. It’s unlikely that the German team won’t be there or thereabouts come the business end of this summer’s festivities.
Germany’s key benefit comes from a fairly settled squad, the majority of which will be familiar to anyone who watched their run to the Euro 2008 final. This in itself allows Jogi Löw the luxury of being able to blood in youngsters without sacrificing results. Germany are, as a result, as solid a proposition as they have been in a generation. Built solidly from the back, and with a high-proportion of home-based players, Die Mannschaft will most likely feature old stagers Arne Friedrich of Hertha Berlin, Per Mertesacker of Werder Bremen and Philipp Lahm in defence – Bayern Munich’s Lahm is perhaps one of the world’s finest attacking full-backs. In qualifying, the quartet was most frequently bolstered by a newcomer, Schalke’s Heiko Westermann, an unused squad member two summers ago, and by 23-year old Serdar Tasci of Stuttgart.
The regular midfield, too, is packed with familiar names. Chelsea’s Michael Ballack is the most-capped current player and the team’s captain, whilst the muscular and direct attacking midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger has 74 international caps at just 25 years of age. Bolstering the attacking midfield options should be the youthful pairing of Marko Marin, 21, of Werder Bremen and 23-year old Mesut Ozil of Schalke 04, both wingers. They will play in front of defence-minded Piotr Trochowski of HSV, now that Thorsten Frings has fallen from favour. In attack, Miroslav Klose – who will be 32 a few days before the tournament kicks off – remains the biggest goal threat. He was the top scorer during qualifying, as well as the Golden Boot winner at the 2006 tournament. His partners are likely to still come from Lukas Podolski of FC Köln and Mario Gomez of Bayern Munich, although Gomez is still to replicate his prolific domestic form on the international stage: indeed, in 9 qualifying matches, he failed to find the net at all. The youthful option is Bayern Munich’s Thomas Müller.
Germany’s only real difficulty is in finding a goalkeeper. Jens Lehmann has now retired and his natural successor, Robert Enke, committed suicide last November after battling with depression. Enke had kept goal in half of Germany’s qualifying games, with the other five presided over by René Adler of Bayer Leverkusen. Adler was the most likely number one, but he will miss out on this summer’s tournament with broken ribs. Adler was himself fairly inexperienced at international level, his back-ups – Manuel Neuer (Schalke) and Tim Wiese (Werder Bremen) – are less experienced still, one of the few potential weak points in an otherwise very strong-looking team. Wiese looks current favourite to be given the nod.
The coach, Löw, took over the reins after the end of the 2006 World Cup with expectations at a decade-long high, and having been the assistant manager to Jurgen Klinsmann throughout the Elf‘s run to third place. In the intervening period, Germany under Löw have never been less than solid and, due to his continuation of Klinsmann’s attack-minded philosophy, often hugely entertaining. Ultimate success has so far eluded him, but his side’s spirited Euro 2008 finals campaign, coupled with a panic-free qualifying performance for South Africa, sees Löw’s stock remain relatively high.
Qualification 1st place in AFC Round 4 Group A FIFA Ranking 19 Best World Cup Last sixteen (2006) Last World Cup Last sixteen (P4 W1 D1 L2 F5 A6 (2006)) Head coach Pim Verbeek (since December 2007) Most capped player Alex Tobin 87 (1988-1998) Top goalscorer Damien Mori 29 (1992-2002).
Australia’s first World Cup campaign since their switch to the Asian federation went exactly according to plan, with qualification sealed comfortably. Along with their group rivals Japan, the Socceroos were the first team to qualify for the 2010 finals, a far cry from their recent history of nervy play-offs with South and Central American opponents, deep into the European winter. Their problem, of course, continues to be distances and time zones, plus the relative weakness of their own football league. In 2006, Guus Hiddink had overcome the obstacles to craft a solid and professional team with a good team ethic. The pressure is on Hiddink’s outspoken countryman Pim Verbeek to at least match that 2006 campaign to the 2nd round.
One of the problems associated with a weak national league is that the best Australian players have spread themselves all over the globe to play their club football. As such, the Australia side is frequently made up of home-based – or at least Asia-based – players so as to keep the managers of European clubs sweet for when the big stars are really needed. The result of this is that a full-strength Aussie squad is one of the rarest sights in international football, which is unlikely to be a help to the coaching staff. Nevertheless, the overall quality of the players Australia have available is not in doubt.
The majority of the first teamers this summer are likely to be names familiar to European audiences. In goal throughout qualifying was Fulham’s Mark Schwarzer, a player enjoying the form of his life this season in England. The team captain is Lucas Neill, another salwart of English football although now at Galatasaray. Other European-based mainstays of the side include the England-based trio of Tim Cahill (Everton), Vince Grella and Bret Emerton (both Blackburn). Emerton and Cahill are perhaps Australia’s biggest-name stars and were joint top scorers in qualifying; the Netherlands-based David Carney, an FC Twente left-back, and Brett Holman, an attack-minded midfielder who plays for AZ; and the Italy-based midfielders Carl Valeri (Sassuolo) and Marc Bresciano (Palermo). In defence, Dinamo Moscow’s Luke Wilkshire and Tromso’s Jade North are popular picks.
They are supplemented by the cream of the home and Asia domiciled talent. The coach favours a sole attacker supported by a five-man midfield, although quite who this will be is difficult to know. Melbourne Victory’s Archie Thompson, the man who holds the all-time record for most goals in a full international game with 13 against American Samoa fell out of favour with the coach after a poor display against Indonesia in 2009. With crosses likely to be raining in, the 6’5″ Joshua Kennedy of Grampus Eight will probably get the nod. Gold Coast United’s Jason Culina is also likely to feature, either at full-back or in midfield, as is Simon Colosimo, a centre back once of Manchester City and now at Melbourne Heart.
The coach, Pim Verbeek, is quite a character. Not one to hold back, he will frequently publically round on individual players who he feels have under-performed. His particular bugbear, however, is the standard of the A-League, which he thinks is terrible. On the whole, he has misgivings about picking home-based players and when he does, watch out for his patience with them wearing very thin, very quickly. After the World Cup, he’ll be on his way to manage the Moroccan Olympic and youth teams.
Qualification 1st place in UEFA Group 7 FIFA Ranking 15 Best World Cup Fourth place (1930 & 1962 (as Yugoslavia)) Last World Cup First round (P3 W0 D0 L3 F2 A10 (2006)(as Serbia and Montenegro)) Head coach Radomir Antic (since August 2008) Most capped player Savo Milosevic 102 (1994-2008) Top goalscorer Savo Milosevic 37 (1994-2008).
Another World Cup, another name, as 2010 sees Serbia make their first appearance under their new name in a World Cup finals tournament. In all their various guises down the years, South Africa 2010 will be their 12th World Cup finals. They’ll no doubt be hoping that they’ll make more of an impression than four years ago, where the team then known as Serbia and Montenegro finished with the worst overall record in the tournament, thanks largely to a 6-0 mauling by an inspired Argentina side in Gelsenkirchen.
Their hopes for this received quite a fillip during qualification, as they emerged from a group containing France as the overall winners, thanks to their respectable goalscoring record of 22 in 10 games. With a young squad full of players deeply coveted (or already snaffled up) by some of Europe’s top clubs, hopes for progressing past the group stage should be high.
On the field, Serbia are led by their captain and veteran of top-level Italian football, Dejan Stankovic of Inter, now beginning to change his game to more of a creative holding role whilst his young teammates do the legwork. These will likely include Wolves’ attacking midfielder Nenad Milijas, winger Milos Krasic of CSKA Moscow and Milan Jovanovic, currently of Standard Liege but joining Liverpool next season. Left-winger Jovanovic was the top scorer during qualifying with five. Also, watch out for Zoran Tosic of Manchester United, another wide player.
In defence, the biggest name player is Manchester United’s Nemanja Vidic. His fellows are likely to consist of Ivica Dragutinovic, a left-back who plays for Sevilla, Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic and the Italian-based duo of full-back Aleksandar Kolarov of Lazio and Udinese centre-back Aleksandar Lukovic. In attack, Marko Pantelic, now at Ajax, remains Serbia’s key forward. The 6’7″ Nikola Zigic of Valencia is most likely to partner him, with Danko Lazovic of Zenit St. Petersburg the first reserve. In goal will be Sporting Club’s Vladimir Stojkovic, most recently seen on loan at Wigan as a back-up to the famously brittle Chris Kirkland.
The coach is a name well-known to European football fans, and supporters of Luton Town, Manchester City and David Pleat in particular: Radomir Antic. Since his time in England at the end of his playing career, Antic has carved out a reputation as one of the most respected coaches in the Spanish league. On his CV are spells at Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid (three times), Real Zaragoza, Celta Vigo and Real Oviedo (twice), with a La Liga title at Atletico being his coaching highlight. As a coach, he is most notable for what is generally considered in Europe as the very English style of persisting with attack, even in adversity keeping to his philosophy of two strikers and flying wingers. On the field, his reign as national coach has been a great success so far, but away from it it has been surrounded with back-biting over money and contract wrangles. A good World Cup will no doubt help silence any doubters.
Qualification 1st place in CAF Third Round Group D FIFA Ranking 31 Only World Cup Last sixteen (P4 W2 D0 L2 F4 A6 (2006)) Head coachMost capped player Richard Kingston 89 (1996-present) Top goalscorer Abedi Pele 33 (1982-1998). Milovan Rajevac (since August 2008)
Ghana, home of perhaps Africa’s greatest ever player, Abedi Pele, qualify for their second consecutive World Cup finals in South Africa. Given their pedigree, it’s maybe surprising that this tournament, coupled with a very respectable display in Germany four years ago, represent their only ever forays onto the top table of international football, especially considering the ubiquity of their West African rivals Nigeria and Cameroon at this level. Whatever the history, however, Ghana are now reaping the rewards of a golden generation of players, and will hope to at least match their performance of 2006 in this summer’s tournament.
Qualifying went reasonably smoothly, although their copybook was somewhat blotted with a loss to Benin and a draw with Mali in their final two matches. Nevertheless, their passage was never seriously in doubt. Solidity is key for the Black Stars, with a strong defence the foundation of their success. In 2006, Ghana’s squad was the youngest in the field, with an average age of 23. In theory, at least, their team should be coming into their prime for Africa’s first World Cup, a fact perhaps supported by their strong performance at the beginning of this year in Angola, where they finished as runner-up in the African Cup of Nations.
With all – or almost all – of Ghana’s team likely to be made up of European-based players, they have a very familiar look. Their most capped player is goalkeeper Richard Kingston, currently warming the bench at Wigan Athletic. He is very much still central to the national team, however, an was ever-present throughout qualification. In front of him are likely to be two more Premier League players, Fulham’s John Pantsil and Sunderland’s on-loan centre back John Mensah. Other regulars in the Black Stars’ defence are left full-back Harrison Afful of Espérance Sportive Tunis and Roda JC’s Eric Addo.
Ahead of them is a very strong-looking midfield. Michael Essien of Chelsea remains the star player, although his season has been ravaged by persistent injury. He’s likely to be joined in the centre of the park by the well-respected team captain Stephen Appiah of Bologna. Rosenborg BK’s perpetual motion midfielder Anthony Annan is another option and a regular in the side. Adding the attacking threat from midfield will be Sulley Muntari, currently at Inter, and Hearts’ winger Laryea Kingston, younger brother of goalkeeper Richard.
In attack, the key goal threat is from Matthew Amoah of NAC Breda, top scorer during qualification. He’s likely to be joined by Prince Tagoe of TSG Hoffenheim, although Stade Rennais’ Asamoah Gyan has a better goalscoring record at international level. Look out, too, for Milan’s 21-year old Dominic Adiyiah. Indeed, Ghana are once again a squad likely to be packed with young talent. Other fresh faces to watch out for are 20-year old midfielder André Ayew of Marseille, the son of Abedi Pele; defender Samuel Inkoom (21) of FC Basel and full-back David Addy (also 20) of FC Porto. The last word must go to 20-year old goalkeeper Daniel Adjei of Liberty Professionals, likely to be the back-up to Richard Kingston and the only home-based player in the Ghana team.
Ghana will be coached in South Africa by Serbian Milovan Rajevac. Ghana are his first national team appointment, in a playing and managerial career which have been largely centred in the land of his birth. His highest profile appointment before Ghana was a brief spell at Red Star Belgrade. His spell with the Black Stars, however, now represents the longest coaching position of his career.
MY (useless) PREDICTION
This is a hard group to forecast, once you have safely assumed that Germany will comfortably secure their passage to round two. Serbia and Ghana are both young sides with a recent history of success, which could well make things hard for an Australian team who only infrequently all play together. However, all three of the teams have the quality to make life very difficult for any opponent, so picking a winner is difficult. I fancy Ghana to just edge it, on African soil.