Group D of the 2010 FIFA World Cup is one of the strongest, yet under the radar, groups. Other groups may get tons of media attention—Group A for host South Africa’s possible chance to advance out, Group C for the match between the United States and England, and Group G being the Group of Death with powerhouses Brazil, Ivory Coast, and Portugal—but Group D has the strongest collection of teams top to bottom.
Germany is a big favorite to come out on top, but Australia, Ghana, and Serbia all are more than capable of upending Die Mannschaft.
2006 was the first time the Socceroos made the World Cup since 1974. It was a strong coming out party, as the team made it to the Round of 16 before losing a heartbreaker to eventual champions Italy on a dubious penalty kick call in stoppage time.
They further displayed their talent in qualifying. After dominating the Oceania region, Australia moved to Asia and finished first with an undefeated record.
With an experienced squad that features a number of players competing in top European leagues, namely the Premiership, the Aussies will look to build on an impressive outing last time around. A good run in the World Cup could also improve their chances of winning the hosting vote for the 2022 games.
Australia has a good defense, but the question is: who will score?
The team typically plays a formation with a lone striker and, during qualifying, defender Brett Emerton tied midfielder Tim Cahill for the team lead in goals. They will need more offensive players to step up to improve on their 2006 finish.
Key Players: Mark Schwarzer (GK), Brett Emerton (D), Tim Cahill (M)
The Germans will be playing in their 15th straight World Cup. They have the most top three finishes in the history of the tournament. The last time they failed to reach the second round was 72 years ago.
With a strong history of successful teams and players, they are favorites to win Group D for good reason.
However, 2010 may prove to be a more difficult journey than per usual.
Already having a very young and inexperienced team, Germany will be without five potential starters—goalkeeper Rene Adler, defenders Heiko Westermann and Christian Träsch, midfielder Simon Rolfes, and midfielder and captain Michael Ballack—due to injury.
Expectations and pressure on the young members of the squad will now be intensified. The players have a long line of success to follow, but will it all be too much of a burden to handle for those with such little experience?
Key Players: Philipp Lahm (D), Mesut Ozil (M), Miroslav Klose (F)
The lone African nation to reach the round of 16 in 2006, Ghana was a popular dark horse pick for 2010.
While not household names, the Black Stars have a talented roster with a number of players from the top leagues in Europe.
Ghana’s biggest positive is its strong youth movement. In 2006, they were the youngest team, with an average age of 24 years old. This squad will add a number of players from the team that beat Brazil to win the 2009 U-20 World Cup, who also were featured prominently on the squad that went to the finals of the Africa Cup of Nations.
Hurting Ghana’s chances is the absence of star player Michael Essien. The midfielder is one of the best players in the entire continent of Africa and is a key player for English Premier League side Chelsea, but he will miss the tournament due to injury.
Does Ghana have enough firepower without the extremely skilled Essien? And much like Germany, will too much pressure be put on the rising youngsters?
Key Players: John Paintsil (D), Stephan Appiah (M), Asamoah Gyan (F)
Competing for the first time as Serbia (previously played as Serbia and Montenegro in 2006, and Yugoslavia prior to that), the country looks to be a strong contender.
The White Eagles finished first in their qualifying group (ahead of 2006 World Cup runner-up France) and combined a rock-solid defense with a new emphasis on offense, as the Serbs were the fifth highest-scoring team in European qualifying.
Even more important is the locker room atmosphere. The Serbian team is notorious for imploding at major tournaments, however this squad finally seems to have gelled together under the helm of head coach Radomir Antic, a characteristic that shouldn’t go overlooked.
Serbia’s recent form has been disappointing, however. They were beaten last week by New Zealand, who although being a team in the 2010 World Cup, is one of the weaker opponents in the tournament and was ranked 63 places lower than Serbia. The team followed that match with another goalless effort, this time drawing with Poland.
It is not the right time for a team to start struggling. Even worse, all is quiet in the locker room now but, if the Serbs continue to struggle, is another locker room blowup to come?
Key Players: Nemanja Vidic (D), Neven Subotic (D), Dejan Stankovic (M)