Overview: Although not apparent off hand, Group D was something of a Group of Death in this tournament. Germany is known to be a phenomenal goal machine, but Serbia was the best European team in qualification, Ghana were the winners of the World Youth Cup and Finalists in the African Nations Cup last January, and Australia was fielding one of their most talented teams ever. Under the pressure and intense competition, both Australia and Serbia folded, while both the Germans and Ghanaians acquired the strength to burst out of this group and achieve further results in the play off round.
GOAL DIFFERENCE (FOR, AGAINST)
Attacking Germany Wins Groups, Games, and Neutral Fans
For decades the old phrase run true,
“Many teams play beautiful, The Germans just win,”
But now a fresh and young crew,
Has abandoned their forefather’s sin,
Well crafted tactics, and integrate play,
Means that these youths will have a last say.
Analysis: It’s often dry and logical to describe the German team and its hard-to-avoid seriousness when talking about such a professional victory-machine as the central European football superpower. The new Germany is, however, also bringing new, entertaining spice to their game, which symbolizes an important departure from their traditional approach.
The young, young team of Germans are bringing a new, attractive style of play to this World Cup. For decades, the German team has symbolized a style of football which saw them be completely dominated by more skilled opposition, yet come up with wins.
An example was the World Cup in Germany in 2006, where German striker Miroslav Klose injured the Argentine goalkeeper Abondanzierri after the South Americans had used their three substitutes and won on penalties. The tough tackling and sometimes dirty players have always symbolized the German play, like Berti Vogts, Lothar Matthaus, Franz Beckenbauer, Dieter Eilts, and Matthias Sammer. Offensively they have often had forwards without outstanding technical ability, but with the ability to force the ball physically over a goal line like Carsten Jancker, Oliver Bierhoff, Rummenige, or Gerd Muller.
Germany has a great pedigree of success in football, that was achieved at least partly by physical and tactical preparation, which often included well-timed fouls rather than better players than the opposition.
Now, a revolution is taking place, as the young attacking super-talents compete with each other for starting spots in a very impressive balance formation, which has abandoned the defensive stance of the former generations and now seeks to actually attack with a degree of style. The generation born between 87-89 of Ozil, Kroos, Marin, Khedira, and Boateng is meshing well with the slightly more conservative, but still young generation of 84-85 which includes Kiessling, Podolski, Schweinsteiger, Lahm, Jansen, Trochowski, and Neuer. In this way, Germany has laid a foundation which will allow them to constantly improve and continue to be a major force in the game for years to come.
In comparison with England, Italy, or France, it is evident that the German revolution within their squad is working, and the performances their team puts in are not only more entertaining but also more effective than their traditional European opponents. The only team that has truly adapted as much as Germany has been Brazil...improving their defensive play and sacrificing a little bit of offensive power.
Strengths: While still founded on an incredibly strong, highly stable defence, the new Germany has many attacking options down the wings as well as through the center. Joachim Low’s side uses a playmaker, a role for which he has three excellent players competing and employs very innovative role reversals not unlike the classically entertaining Dutch style. The current German team demonstrated its full power in the 4-0 dismantling of Australia, a team who does not normally suffer from poor defending. Their weakness, if any, is the absence of the traditional German strong defensive midfielder, a position that Bastian Schweinsteiger fills in a satisfactory fashion with the absence of Simon Rolfes and Michael Ballack. I personally think not much is lost with Ballack’s absence.
Prognosis: Germany faces the tough challenge of England, and if they progress, will face the tough competition from the winner of Argentina-Mexico. There is no question that based on their performances so far, Germany can see off both of those challenges...
The Last Hope For Africa Advances By a Hair
Countless chances, explosions of Brilliance,
The Ghanaian team surges and flows,
A little more goal and more penalty box resilience,
And Africa’s last chance with confidence grows,
The young Black Stars are well prepared,
To frustrate anyone with fair fight and flair.
Analysis : Ghana has been a very creative and very interesting team in this tournament, and, without a doubt, the best African team in the World Cup. Only lack of finishing meant that they drew with a ten-man Australia that they utterly dominated, and didn’t seize a first half opportunity to have a chance at upsetting Germany. More decisiveness and efficiency in front of goal, and a consistency in their so far impressive performances could mean this Ghana team has the ability to advance farther than any African team. The absence of Chelsea superstar Michael Essien has hurt, but this very young team with an average age of 22 is coping fine if they manage to learn from their mistakes as the tournament progresses.
Strengths: Creativity—and bags of it. Andre Ayew, the son of the legendary Abedi Pele, is unpredictable and skilled as a playmaker, while Udinese talent Kwadwo Asamoah has moments of explosiveness where he ties opposition defences into pretzels. Anthony Annan of Rosenborg Trondheim is filling in very well for Michael Essien and team captain Stephen Appiah’s lack of match fitness protecting a fantastically talented defence of Vorsah and Mensah from excessive pressure. Ghana is a strong team in all departments except goal scoring.
What really puts Ghana apart from other African sides is the ability to really stop the offensive moves of strong teams like Germany or Serbia with exceptional team defending. Milovan Rajevac looks like something of a lost man in front of his Black Stars bench, but this Serbian coach has really brought a fantastic defensive ability out of the talented Ghanaians.
Prognosis: The US is in for a hell of a match, when the whole continent will be supporting the Ghanaians ardently, and the young players could be sincerely buoyed by the fans. The speed and skills of the Ghanaians should allow them to pass the Americans, although American grit could be fatal if the Black Stars are unprepared psychologically for this game.
The next game is no harder, with Uruguay and South Korea as the possible opponents. Simply put—Ghana has every chance of Cameroon and Senegal’s record of reaching the quarterfinals and set a new bar for Africa. If not, these 22 years old will certainly be back in force.
Aussies Hit Form Too Late
Epitaph: Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!!! Oyoyoyoy...
Analysis: Australia had all the potential to do well in this group, and they didn’t show it until the last 45 minutes of their participation with a superb upset of favourites Serbia. A great generation of Australian talent leaves the stage without having shown what they were really capable of...except in their superb performance in the final forty five minutes against Serbia.
Winning against Serbia was very important for Australians, as immigrants from the Western Balkans make up a sizable part of the population. The mixed Serbian, Macedonian, and Bosnian heritage means that many players had to choose whether to play for Australia or their home country.
The grave mistake was made by Dutch coach Pim Verbeek, as he deployed a timid, highly defensive team against Germany, which tried to sit back and counter-attack. The plan completely backfired, and the Aussies finished with 10 men losing with an embarrassing 4-0 margin. Against Ghana they were stronger, managing to force a draw against the superior Ghanaian team. But against Serbia, even though they had problems in the first half, superb goals from Cahill and Holmen allowed them a famous win, and gave their fans something to remember from this tournament. The difference was that Verbeek finally used the attacking players that Australia had, such as Bresciano and Holmen, and Australia could adequately threaten their opponents.
This Australian generation is close to retirement, and it will be difficult for the Socceroos to find qualification form losing key players like Neill, Bresciano, Kewell, Chipperfield, Schwarzer, Emerton, and Cahill to retirement as they are all over 30 and are not likely to be back in 4 years. The new generation just so obviously doesn’t compare.... with Brett Holmen being the only really outstanding player.
Serbia gets a kick in the Inat
Epitaph: Serbian gets a Jambulani (controversial World Cup ball) in the Inat (translation: tenacity-determination regardless of the consequences) as two meter Zigic looks a timid mouse
Analysis: There was something definitely wrong with the Serbian attacking ability, as their touches and shooting precision in attack was considerably worse than at any time in the past 24 months. Wastefulness in front of the goal, especially from the normally dangerous giant Zigic, plagued with what could have been a surprisingly good performance. The Serbs were relativelly steady in defence though, with the Vidic-Ivanovic back line holding Germany to a standstill, but goals cam very, very, hard with many inaccurate passes and poor finishing. This strong side leaves the tournament as last place in their group.
Where the experienced and successful manager Radomir Antic is to blame, is that the team seemed out of sorts psychologically, managing a sending off (Lukovic) and a hand ball penalty from Kuzmanovic to even further diminish their chances.
A lot of inaccurate passes meant that the normally very dangerous Milos Krasic of CSKA Moscow failed to shine, except for the goal he created against Germany. He also missed two important shots in one-on-one situations with goalkeepers—inexcusable for a top player.
11 Performances to Remember
Manuel Neuer— Replacing the legendary Oliver Khan, the injured Rene Adler and the tragic suicide death of veteran Eobert Enke was no easy task for 24 year old Manuel Neuer. He has managed excellently so far, pulling off some impressive, cool-headed saves when things got hot against Ghana and Serbia.
Philipp Lahm— A young captain for an even younger team, Bayern Munich’s vastly underrated wingback is normally a left sided player, but is playing on the right for Germany, and is ever-present on the pitch in defence and offence. Defensively, he has saved near-goal situations in defence at least four times, most notably inside the box against Ghana. He is going from good to better at this World Cup progresses, and that is exactly what a successful World Cup captain should do.
Branislav Ivanovic —Stood out in a mediocre Serbia for his involvement and solid defensive input, whole sometimes looking dangerous going forward. Serbia has a great defender in Ivanovic, and the 26 year old Chelsea man will have another chance or two.
Isaac Vorsah— This mature 21 year old is a big reason why Bundesliga minnows Hoffenheim have performed so well. Now his defensive input along Mensh has only been harmed by card trouble. Otherwise, he looks the perfect defender in terms of positioning, physique, and profound understanding of the game.
Per Mertesacker —At 25, this Werder Bremen super-defender already has 62 caps and is something of a veteran in the young German team. He rarely, if ever, makes mistakes, and his composure, aerial ability, and positioning are key to Germany’s ability to go forward and attack more comfortably.
Hans Sarpei —Normally a right sided player, 33 year old Bayer Leverkusen veteran Sarpei is contributing fantastically to Ghana’s ability to stop creative teams. His defending and work rate has been stellar and Ghana is such a power due to Vorsah, Sarpei and Mensah’s input in defence.
Honourable Mention: Lucas Neill —If not for the 4-0 meltdown of Australia, Lucas Neill really preformed in Australia’s defence and managed to rally his team to not lose their spirit and constantly improved during the course of the tournament. In Neill Istanbul side Galatasaray have a great defender at his peak.
TIED BEST OF THE GROUP
Anthony Annan —Trondheim’s Rosenborg have become invincible in the Norwegian Tippeliga with his midfield inputs, and Ghana are driven heavily by his energy. Sometimes it seems he is everywhere in midfield at once, and his play has made the absence of Michael Essien more easily ignored.
Kwadwo Asamoah – Creative, lighting quick, and powerfully explosive, Asamoah is a superb talent. His creativity and power are only weakened by his poor decision making and problems with staying constantly visible in the game.
Tim Cahill, Dejan Stankovic, and Brett Holman —Cahill has brought his outstanding Everton from to the Autralian team, and managed to lead the side to their famous victory over Serbia. Stankovic was one of the best performers in an underperforming team, brining his Inter Milan European Champion form to Serbia, and his presence will be missed by the Balkan team when he retires soon. Brett Holman scored two great Australian goals, one better than the other, and his ability gives hope to Australia’s future.
Andre Ayew – Already a mature playmaker at 20, he has only played nine games in the French First Division champions Marseille, and was loaned to modest Ligue 2 side Arles Avignon, where he nearly single-handily catalyzed their historic promotion to the top flight. Now half of Europe is interested in him, and given his play here, no wonder. He also was a real star of the African Nations cup.
TIED BEST IN THE GROUP: Mesut Ozil— He beat the competition of excellently playing Toni Kroos and Marko Marin for the attacking midfield roles and now forced the more experienced Trochowski to the bench. Given how he is playing, no wonder...his goal against Ghana was excellent, and his playmaking is the glue of the excellent German attack.
Thomas Mueller— An excellent debut season with Bayern Munich saw him a surprise inclusion in the final German team, a surprise starter, and it is no surprise that he has retained his starting role while playing fantastically in the German attack on the right and center. At 20, the lanky player has already scored against Australia and really looks like one of the revelations of the tournament, with so many of his young German colleagues.
11 Flops to Forget
The goalkeepers did fine and avoid the flop charts.
All of Australia Versus Germany —The Australian's timid defending was shameful. The Germans were extraordinary, but the Aussies are capable of much more balanced attacking play than they demonstrated with their timid posture.
Nemanja Vidic— Considered one of the best defenders in the World, his successes didn’t rub off on his teammates. His performances were satisfactory at best and Serbia still conceded goals that could have been prevented.
Aleksandar Lukovic— Reckless in tackling and arguing with the referee, his sending off was a major fault costing Serbia heavily.. his contribution for the team was considerably worse than for his club Udinese.
Holger Badstuber —One young German who was a bit outclassed by the Serbians in the German left defence...failing to stop Krasic setting up the decisive goal. Has problems adapting to the system of the national team, and normally plays better with Bayern Munich.
Gojko Kacar —When he exploded on the scene two years ago with Hertha Berlin Europe looked his for the conquest contributed great defensive midfield play and many goals... his drop in form last season not only saw the Berlin club relegated, but he was benched with Serbia and failed to bring anything of note as a substitute.
Jason Culina – The player once looked competitive in the Dutch league, but moved back early to Australia and has since become something of a regular flop...
Marco Bresciano— Failed to deliver his Palermo form to Australia, not adding his normal goals and energetic play to the team. A lot more was expected of the Bald attacking midfielder on his swan song in South Africa.
Zdravko Kuzmanovic— Ooofff...the Stuttgart player caused the decisive penalty against Ghana, made a lot of unnecessary fouls, and missed two clear goal opportunities...a lot worse than normal for the promising 22 year old.
Sulley Muntari —Disastrously off form, the Inter Milan midfielder failed to find a regular place in Mourinho’s champion squad, and now is a benchwarmer for Ghana who brings little as a substitute. His famous shooting, energy and passing didn’t make his South Africa suitcase.
Harry Kewell— Another great player, the former Leeds, Liverpool, now Galatasaray attacking midfielder has for several years been below par due to serious injuries. But during the World Cup, he lost his chance to do anything exceptional for Australia with a handball on the goal line to see him suspended for the final game...he understandably tried to con the referee as this once great player sadly leaves the World stage in a Zidanesque way.
Danko Lazovic —Danko Lazovic of Zenit Saint Petersburg made one great contribution to football in recent years—he made PSV 5 million Euros and failed to do much else, flopping and ending up on the Russian club’s bench. Why he was chosen for the team and got so much playing time is a mystery...his finishing and passing were disastrous.
FLOP OF THE GROUP
Nikola Zigic —A strange player, giant and missing lots of headed opportunities and all sorts of opportunities...if he hit even half of them Serbia could have ended up group leaders. Instead, they go home last. The Jambulani ball just seemed too much for this player, who has a hard time adapting...his playing for Valencia has also not been satisfactory, and his incredible play with Racing Santander is a shadow of the past.