Like a machine Germany has reached a record seven World Cup final matches and has once gain set their sights on lifting its fourth piece of hardware since the ‘Miracle of Berne’ – its first-ever world title in 1954. They followed winning again on home soil in 1974 and once more in Italy in 1990. Head coach Joachim Low has given himself every opportunity for success by grooming an efficient and explosive side that has the tactical skills to bring Die Mannschaft back to the finals. After serving time as former German boss Jurgen Klinsmann’s assistant at the 2006 FIFA World Cup, the 49-year-old stepped up to the helm in July of that same year. The SC Freiburg all-time leading scorer has already led his club to winning EURO 2008, and now sets his sights on South Africa 2010. The Germans play solid all-around soccer and are led by longtime captain Michael Ballack of Chelsea fame. The 33-year-old national captain will make his 97th appearance for Die Mannschaft. The squad is rounded out with fellow Bayern teammates Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm, and Lukas Podolski, all of who has what it takes to acquire a fourth World Cup title for the Germans. The Germans demonstrated their goal scoring skills and resolve as they marched over Wales, Azerbaijan and Liechtenstein, and then attacked the Russians, beating them at home and then handing the Reds their first-ever home defeat in a FIFA World Cup qualifying match.
This group’s sleeper will be Ghana. The Black Star reached its first-ever World Cup finals as the only African side to get out of the group stage at the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany, and was the first to qualify for South Africa 2010 in their second straight World Cup appearance. After winning four CAF African Cup of Nations titles and being the first African team to lift the FIFA U-20 World Cup, the Black Stars will no doubt be anxious to solidify themselves as the best squad of the continent by bringing home a World Cup title. New Boss, Serbian Milovan Rajevac took over at the helm after Claude Le Roy’s departure in 2008. The 56-year old is a former defender that played a majority of his career for the former Yugoslavia and was best known for a brief coaching stint with Red Star Belgrade as well as perennial Serbian squad FK Borac, who he led to their first-ever European tournament qualification. The Black Star boasts very little in the way of household names, but do have a field of solid international stars. The will lean on Chelsea superstar Michael Essien to generate their offensive attack. He will be paired with Inter Milan midfielder Sulley Muntari and captain Stephen Appiah of Bologna, to form a formidable engine room capable of creating opportunities for the side’s offensive firepower, while the England-based duo of John Mensah and John Paintsil anchor the backline in front of Wigan Athletic’s Richard Kingson between the pipes. The Black Stars cruised through the first half of the qualifying, but after being unbeaten in their first four matches, broke even with clubs Gabon and Libya and only earned the right to the World Cup via goal differential over the two teams.
The Beli Orlovi come into it’s first ever World Cup as a fully independent nation, but they are no strangers to the worlds stage. The side who was previously Yugoslavia until 2003, and then as the Serbia and Montenegro national football team until 2006, participated at nine FIFA World Cups between 1930 and 2002, and finished runners-up at the UEFA European Championship twice. Serbia christened their first independent international match on August 16 2006, winning 3-1 away to Czech Republic. Now they will look to rely on that wealth of experience to once again strike fear into their opponents. The White Eagles player turned coach, Radi Antic, has Serbia in position to make a quality run in this tournament. The 61-year old has spent time coaching Zaragoza, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, and juggernaut — FC Barcelona. Antic has blended a fine squad of experienced hardheads with talented youngsters. Much of Serbia’s success has been their staunch defense, anchored by scrappy defender Nemanja Vidic. The Manchester United center back will be aided by Chelsea fullback Branislav Ivanovic and captain — Inter midfielder Dejan Stankovic, all who are players capable of making the difference in big games. The up front punch will be led by duo Milan Jovanovic and Marko Pantelic at the point. The Beli Orlovi finished in first place in the European Group 7 for the first time in team history, finishing ahead of the heavy favorite France.
The Socceroos recent move from the Oceanic Football Confederation to the Asian Football Confederation paid off with an easy qualification into the 2010 World Cup, as they were one of the first nations to book its ticket to this summer’s tournament. Australia has appeared on the world stage just twice, but is now making up for lost time by claiming a second consecutive qualification. The side is now under the watchful eye of head coach Pim Verbeek who assumed the reins of Australia in December 2007. Verbeek has put together a talented squad with a solid defense as well as a strong forward attack. This year’s Australian side is a battle-hardened and experienced group that boasts many of the Germany 2006 personnel and is led by Everton midfielder Tim Cahill. The talisman has become the centerpiece of the Australian attack. He will be aided by Blackburn’s Brett Emerton, and Galatasaray’s Harry Kewell on the opposite flank. Blackburn mate Vince Grella and national Jason Culina will hold down the centerfield as central defender Lucas Neill and goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer, who claimed a national record as the team maintained a clean sheet for seven consecutive FIFA World Cup qualifiers, demonstrate the Australians suffocating defense that conceded just four goals including a record run of seven matches, en route to South Africa. The Socceroos went unbeaten in eight matches in the final stage, finishing five points clear of Japan, with Bahrain, Qatar and Uzbekistan trailing well behind.
Look for Germany to better their third place finish in 2010, as one of two sides to make it out of the group D stage. Ghana is considered one of the few host continent squads that have a respectable chance of surviving to the second round of the tournament, as the only other African nation that consistently has better odds is Didier Drogba’s the Ivory Coast. It is unlikely Serbia will advance from the group stage, but they could be fun to watch with winger Milan Jovanovic supplying the crosses for Europe’s tallest player Nikola Zigic. The Australians should not be underestimated at the World Cup finals, but will also have to be at their very best to come through a difficult Group D. It will be a battle behind Germany, with Serbia, Ghana and Australia all having a very good chance for the final transfer spot.
Advancing: Germany, Ghana