Group D rivals Germany and Australia meet in the pick of today’s games at the 2010 World Cup, with the Socceroos looking to produce an upset against the three-time winners in front of 70,000 fans at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in the picturesque coastal city of Durban.
This group is set to be ones of the tighter ones at the finals, and both teams will have a keen eye on Serbia and Ghana’s match that takes place in Pretoria a few hours earlier. In both previous competitive matches between the two sides Germany have come out on top, including a 3-0 win for West Germany at the 1974 World Cup.
Proof of the quality of Group D is found in the fact that Australia find themselves as the outsiders of the four with the bookmakers. This is despite a trip to the knockout phase in Germany 2006 under Guus Hiddink that ended with a narrow and controversial defeat to eventual winners Italy, an impressive qualifying campaign this time round and a recent defeat of fellow qualifiers Denmark.
The spine that runs through their probable 4-2-3-1 formation is an impressive one, including goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer (Fulham); Lucas Neill (Galatasary), who will be asked to play a central defensive role; central midfielders Tim Cahill (Everton) and Vince Grella (Blackburn); and the long-time golden boy of Australian football, Harry Kewell (Galatasary).
Kewell, who has endured injury after injury during the latter half of his career, has overcome a groin strain and is likely to be deployed as a lone striker by Australia’s Dutch coach Pim Verbeek. Support will be offered to him by Cahill, one of the English Premier League’s most effective goalscoring midfielders, and from Mark Bresciano and Brett Emerton on either wing.
The one area of concern, frequently cited by Socceroo fans and in the media back home, is strength in depth, or rather a lack of it. Australia’s starting XI appears on paper to be a match for any of their Group D opponents, but a look at the subs bench tonight will reveal a relatively limited group of journeymen and unproven youngsters.
So Verbeek will be hoping that none of his regulars suffer any major injury problems during the finals, and he will need to manage their fitness by using his substations wisely throughout. He served a World Cup apprenticeship with the South Korean national team under two of Holland’s most successful coaches, assisting Hiddink in 2002 and Dick Advocaat in 2006. He was then chosen as Advocaat’s successor after the finals in Germany, but resigned after a troubled first few months in the job.
Australian fans respect the fact that he led them through an untroubled qualifying campaign, but many members of the press have raised eyebrows in frustration at what they perceive to be negative tactics. The mood in the camp ahead of tonight’s game appears confident though, with midfielder Jason Culina claiming that the Socceroos have improved since the last World Cup.
“Four years on, we’re all a lot more experienced, we’re all a lot older and we know what to expect this time,” he told fifa.com.
“We know it’s not easy and there are a lot of great teams here at the World Cup, especially in our group, so it’s going to be a very difficult task. But we’re working as hard as we possibly can, and I honestly feel that we are a better team this time round. Hopefully we can go out there and show it against Germany.”
After disappointing campaigns in 1994 and 1998, Germany have rediscovered their long-envied talent for performing on the biggest stage of all in the last two World Cups. Runners-up against the odds in 2002 and semi-finalists on home soil last time, confidence in the squad has returned amongst the general population.
Coach Joachim Low acted as Jurgen Klinsmann’s assistant at the last World Cup before succeeding him after the competition. He has stayed faithful to the philosophy of quick-tempo attacking football implemented by the two of them, making this German side unrecognisable compared with some of the more cautious counter-attacking teams of the past.
Its focus is on keeping possession via a fluid 4-2-3-1 formation that can seamlessly morph into 4-3-3 or 4-4-2. Low also enjoys the rare luxury of being almost universally respected in Germany – something very few of his predecessors in the job have had – for carrying on the progress of 2006 at Euro 2008, when Germany finished runners-up to Spain.
The Germans qualified comfortably for South Africa, winning eight and drawing two of their ten games, scoring 26 goals and conceding only five in the process. Many had predicted that Russia would pose a real challenge to Germany’s authority in their qualifying group, but they secured victories both home and away. Recent warm-up victories over Hungary (3-0) and Bosnia (3-1) have confirmed the camp’s wellbeing and will ensure that they start the tournament in confident mood.
The squad contains a good blend of youth and experience, but Low will be hoping that an injury to emblematic captain Michael Ballack, who will miss the tournament, doesn’t destabilise his midfield. Ballack’s absence means that the captain’s armband passes to Bayern Munich fullback Philipp Lahm, and Lahm’s club colleague Bastain Schweinsteiger will assume increased responsibility by filling Ballack’s pivotal position as the main deep-lying midfielder.
The two Bayern men are only 25 and 26 respectively but boast almost 140 caps between them, and their experience will be supplemented by that of centre-half Per Mertesacker and forwards Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski, both of whom have starred in previous World Cups for Germany.
Of the younger generation, great things are expected of the playmakers Mezut Ozil (Werder Bremen) and Toni Kroos (Bayern Munich), with the former likely to receive more playing time. He will be looking to enhance his reputation as one of Europe’s most coveted young players.
In defence, Manchester City’s new big-money signing Jerome Boateng and Stuttgart’s Serdar Tasci are up-and-coming players to look out for. The hunger of these young players has certainly left its mark on their new skipper ahead of today’s opener.
“This team is hungry, you can see it in every training session where the intensity and the enthusiasm are really high,” Lahm told the press on Thursday.
“As far as I’m concerned, this German team is the best I’ve played in. We want to start with a win against Australia, as it would help to reassure this young team. We will have to impose our own game, moving the ball forward as fast as possible. We are superior to them technically, but we will have to be careful because they are good on the counter-attack and strong in the air. We are confident.”
Australia (possible): Schwarzer; Wilkshire, Neill, Moore, Chipperfield; Grella, Culina; Emerton, Cahill, Bresciano; Kewell
Germany (possible): Neuer; Boateng, Tasci, Mertesacker, Lahm; Khedira, Schweinsteiger; Muller, Ozil, Podolski; Klose
Referee: Marco Rodriguez (Mex)
By Mark Robinson
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