Group D rivals Serbia and Ghana will take to the pitch at Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Tshwane/Pretoria knowing their qualification hopes for the 2010 FIFA World Cup™'s Round of 16 could well hinge on this encounter. The venue will be filled to the rafters and there is likely to be heavy support for Ghana in the African side's second consecutive appearance at the global showcase. As for Serbia, they will look to replicate the performances of their venerated predecessors who lit up the world stage under the flag of the former Yugoslavia.
Ghana will not need reminding of their FIFA World Cup debut four years ago, when a loss to Italy left them with an uphill struggle to advance. The Black Stars did that with two subsequent wins but they will hope for a brighter start this time. The side coached by Serbian tactician Milovan Rajevac had a brief preparation phase ahead of the main event that included just two friendlies. The first yielded a 4-1 defeat by the Netherlands, but Ghana bounced back to down Latvia 1-0 in their second dress rehearsal. They look to be blessed above all with a fine team ethic, particularly since Rajevac opted to integrate a number of players from the U-20 side that won last year's world title. That decision quickly paid off as they reached the final of the CAF Africa Cup of Nations earlier this year.
Despite the notable absence of injured midfielder Michael Essien, the west Africans can count on several gifted individuals capable of filling the void. Up front, Asamoah Gyan will be eager to impress, while midfield trio Sulley Muntari, Kwadwo Asamoah and Andre Ayew can provide support in numbers going forward. Serbia will nonetheless start the game as favourites and desperate to justify that billing, given the famous names sprinkled through their line-up and their impressive showing in qualifying when they topped a group that featured France, Austria and Romania.
From the sidelines, coach Radomir Antic will be expecting big things from a side populated by players who have emerged as first-team stalwarts at some major clubs. Heading that list is Manchester United centre-back Nemanja Vidic, who will line up alongside Chelsea right-back Branislav Ivanovic, while their midfield includes Inter Milan's Dejan Stankovic and Stuttgart's Zdravko Kuzmanovic. Further forward, striker Nikola Zigic will look to wreak havoc using his height, just as he will for Birmingham City next term after joining from Valencia.
Ghana will forever be grateful to Asamoah for registering their first ever goal at a FIFA World Cup finals. His star continues to shine brightly and he found the net on several occasions during this year's CAN to help his side finish runners-up. Four years on from his history-making strike against the Czech Republic, much is expected of the 24-year-old on South African soil yet he will doubtless need to be at his very best to get anything out of Vidic, the man charged with stifling any Ghanaian attacks. Vidic's extraordinary mastery of the defensive arts has really come to the fore in the last two seasons, allowing him to triumph in the UEFA Champions League with United while earning him respect and admiration throughout the game.
1 - As part of Yugoslavia, Serbian players met Ghana once, for a 1997 friendly that the Balkan side won 3-1.
What they said
"We have players in our side who took part in the 2006 World Cup. I think we'll need to prepare better this time. There won't be any easy opponents as each team has good players and everyone wants to appear in this event. The task won't be easy, but we're confident and think we can do ourselves justice," Nemanja Vidic, Serbia defender.
"I'm confident and full of hope. I hope the players will give the best of themselves. We want to do great things with this team. We're going to concentrate on the next game and we hope to leave the World Cup having achieved some good results," Milovan Rajevac, Ghana coach.