From the Terraces: It's Us Against The World- by Jay Nair
From the Terraces: It's Us Against The World- by Jay Nair
Australia has developed a strange habit of establishing records in world football. In 2005, Australia was the last team to qualify for the 2006 World Cup and was the first team to secure qualification for the finals through a penalty shootout. Australia also recorded the highest goals tally and goal difference in an international match in a staggering 31-0 victory against American Samoa. In 2009 Australia was the first country to qualify for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
On the 4th of December, Australia's place in Group D was confirmed along with Germany, Serbia and Ghana. Here's a rundown of Australia's competitors in what is this year's "Group of Death".
Given their consistency over the last fifty years on the international scene including three World Cup wins (third-place finish in 2006) and three European Championship wins (finalists in 2008), it comes as no surprise that the Germans are expected to win this group. Germany (as per the stereotype) generally fields teams that are technically precise, solid in defence, that have a well organised midfield that tries to deny the opposition possession of the football through a combination of clever passing and physical tackling. It is combination of skilful players who are also able to ride the rough challenges of other players that make them very deadly - South American teams on the other hand, are seen as being technically gifted but unable to cope with the rough-and-ready mentality of European sides.
Their most commonly agreed weakness is the lack of a truly inventive player in the midfield or forward line - blessed with creative mavericks, Germany are not. The addition of a Ronaldinho (circa 2005, not 2009) or Juan Roman Riquelme figure would undoubtedly improve the team but even without such a player, the Germans are able to tick on and get the work done against inferior opposition.
At the moment, Michael Ballack serves magnificently as the team's attacking pivot, directing attacks but also racing back to defend in the manner of Chelsea teammate Frank Lampard. However, he is now 33 years old and a World Cup appearance in 2014 seems unlikely. But Germany have nothing to worry about - a young upstart named Thomas Müller is making waves at Bayern Munich, Ballack's former club, with his performances and seems destined to take his compatriots place in the national team.
2010 is the first World Cup Serbia will have qualified for as an independent nation, following their appearance in 2006 as Serbia and Montenegro. That said, Serbian players have featured prominently in international tournaments, though perhaps not to their credit. In the modern era, their best result was a defeat in the quarterfinals of the 1990 World Cup - more recently the team did not qualify for the 2002 World Cup and crashed out during the group phase of the 2006 World Cup. Much like Spain pre-Euro 2008, Serbia is seen as chokers when it mattered. What cannot be doubted is the quality of their teams - Serbia have always had a reputation of being one of the more technical participants in the game with the physical nature of the domestic league producing robust and tough footballers.
Overall team organisation, while at a high level in absolute terms, is perhaps not quite at the same level of top European sides, which provides a handy explanation for their lack of international success. A major fault of the side is the lack of a world-class striker - of the current front line, only Danko Lazovic and Nikola Zigic have come close to that magical ratio of a goal every other game. A David Silva or Thierry Henry would not go astray in the Serbian team.
Their most famous players are Nemanja Vidic (Manchester United) and Dejan Stankovic (Inter Milan), with Vidic challenging in the centre of defence as well as corner kicks and Stankovic providing the creative spark. Slightly lesser lights are Branislav Ivanovic at Chelsea and youngster Neven Subotic at Borussia Dortmund. But there is some doubt as to whether there is a suitable replacement for Dejan Stankovic once he retires.
One only need look at the upbeat goal celebrations by both players and fans to know how Ghana will approach each game. High tempo passing and attacking play define the free flowing Africans who came a comfortable second in the African qualifiers. They might not be one of the most fancied teams in World Cup but they will be feared and not without reason. They have won the African Cup of Nations four times, coming third in the 2008 edition and were the first African nation to qualify for the knockout stages of the World Cup in 2006. They are utterly fearless of other sides, as evidenced by their consistently attacking play despite the opponents and have caught up enormously in areas that African teams have generally been deficient in. In terms of tactics, preparation and discipline they are the equal of any team currently playing in the world - of course, their natural athleticism and fitness have never been in question. The Czech Republic were certainly caught out when they were beaten convincingly in a 2-0 defeat in 2006. Australia should fare better having played Ghana twice in the past three years.
Their perceived weakness has always been in their tactical arrangement and discipline during a match but with the introduction of state-of-the-art facilities and modern coaching techniques have more or less eliminated these defects from their game. Another advantage that Ghana take into next year's World Cup is that they possessed the youngest squad of the 2006 edition with an average age of just twenty-four. This places Ghana in the exceptional position of having the majority of their World Cup veterans in the prime of their playing careers. All that is missing is a superb striker to match the wonderful balance they have in midfield.
Michael Essien is their most well known player and his eye-catching performances as a midfield destroyer for Chelsea have translated well to the national team. Sulley Muntari of Inter Milan is the main creative threat and Stephen Appiah of Bologna settles in nicely in the midfield trident. The forwards are hardly deserving of this midfield and Ghana really lacks a player in the mould Samuel Eto'o who, one would imagine, would easily slip into the team and provide a serious goal scoring threat for the team.