As sure as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, so too Germany will be a dangerous and powerful force in international football. The Germans have won three World Cups and have been in the final of the tournament seven times, tying them with Brazil for most appearances in a World Cup final. They are the favorites in any Group in which they appear and are almost guaranteed to make it out of the Group stages of any tournament in which they play. You underestimate Germany at your peril.
So, perhaps I am courting peril then, but on paper, this year’s team seems to be one of the least dominant looking German sides in a long time. Yes, they were lethal in qualifying (they didn’t lose a single match home or away, only drawing Finland twice) and there is no doubt that Germany should win Group D, but this is a team that is missing its engine; Michael Ballack, the German captain, is out of the Tournament with an injury picked up in the FA Cup Final. Looking up and down the roster, the Germans blend talented but inexperienced youth with a string of veterans who have underperformed at the club level this season; World Cup goal machine Miroslav Klose was limited in his work for Bayern Munich this season and is struggling in the run up to the Cup, 2006 sensation Lukas Podolski has done little to make an impact in club football and Bastian Schweinsteiger has made a bit of a return to form this season after a couple of years playing out of position at Bayern. At the other end of the experience spectrum is Mesut Özil, a tremendously talented young playmaker who drove Germany to the 2009 Under-21 European Championship, where he personally destroyed England in the final; Özil is poised to be one of the breakout stars of the tournament and he should prosper as a playmaker in Ballack’s absence.
Özil! Now With Crap Rock & Roll Soundtrack!
But while most sides would kill for this level of uncertainty (the team is excellent), the Germans themselves seem reluctant to consider this team a contender; even the great Franz Beckenbauer can’t see Germany competing in the final. Is the lack of a conversation about mighty Germany simply hopeful caution, a little sandbagging or a sign of a deeper problem? Group D is no cakewalk– it is the second most competitive Group after Group G. If you were naming three nations able to challenge Germany’s size and physical play with some power of their own, you’d have to put Australia, Ghana and Serbia on the list of contenders. This is a bruising Group filled with tough players who thrive on contact; Vidic, Cahill, Muntari, Stankovic, Moore. It is amazing how fate can conspire to make some Groups great and others a stroll in the park and of all the Group favorites heading into the Tournament, I think Germany has one of the most difficult paths to the second round of any of the favorites. And yet, they are and forever will be Germany and so they’ll probably walk into the final 8 where they could run into Argentina, setting up a drool-inducing quarter final. This is a tough tournament to call for Germany, and their path through South Africa will be one of the most interesting stories of this World Cup.
Keep Your Shirt On: Lahm Leads Germany Into Uncertainty
Who To Watch
As I mentioned above, I think Mezut Özil for Germany will be one of the breakout stars of the Tournament. For Australia, all eyes will be on the oft-injured Harry Kewell, a player who can dazzle on the day but who seems to be made of paper maché. Without Kewell up top, Australia have very limited scoring options outside of Tim Cahill, so his fitness is of the utmost importance to Australia’s chances. And speaking of injuries, it is a huge shame that one of my personal favorite players and one of African football’s brightest stars, Michael Essien, will be missing the Cup for Ghana; his absence has to damage Ghanian hopes of advancing, but if they are to compete, they’ll need Sulley Muntari to boss the midfield. Serbian hopes lie in their rock hard defenders and the creative play of Dejan Stanković, the veteran captain of the Serbian squad who is coming off of a treble winning season at Inter Milan. If Stanković can lead the way in an otherwise limited attack, Serbia should make some noise in this group.
Kewell and The Gang (sorry, had to): Harry Carries Aussie Hopes
Must See Match
Without question, the result of the Germany vs Serbia match on June 18 will go a long way toward determining who is in control of Group D. I expect this to be one of the highlight matches of the tournament as it promises to resemble a heavyweight fight between two big, physical teams. I will be making some popcorn for this one…
Serbian Captain Dejan Stanković
Who Moves On
For me, it has to be Germany and Serbia as I think Ghana will suffer greatly from the loss of Essien and Australia doesn’t have enough fire power to get past Germany or Serbia. If anyone will prove this prediction wrong, it will have to be Muntari and Kewell, who hold the keys to their team’s fortunes in the Tournament. Still this promises to be a bruising Group, one that I will predict will lead every other Group in cards given. This is my kind of football, and I am looking forward to Group D providing some serious fireworks.
Sulley Muntari And Ghana Could Be Spoilers
Up Next: Group E