The highlight of Sunday’s three games is the Group D meeting between three-time world champions Germany and an Australia side looking to build on the progress they made at Germany 2006.
In the other match in the pool Ghana will put their ability to overcome the absence of Michael Essien to the test against Serbia, who topped their qualification group ahead of France and have a solid core of experienced players to call on.
In the first match of the day Algeria and Slovenia go head to head in a game neither can afford to lose, especially with meetings against Group C favourites England and USA to come. Slovenia are making their second appearance at the finals, having disposed of Russia in the play-offs, while the Desert Foxes clinched their place at South Africa 2010 in a one-off decider against old foes Egypt.
Algeria-Slovenia, Group C, Polokwane 13.30
Germany-Australia, Group D, Durban, 20.30
Serbia-Ghana, Group D, Tshwane/Pretoria, 16.00
The big game
Germany have won all their opening matches in their last five FIFA World Cup™ appearances, a record that will surely be tested by the combative Australians.
German preparations for South Africa 2010 have been dogged by injury problems. Captain Michael Ballack, goalkeeper Rene Adler, defender Heiko Westermann and midfielder Simon Rolfes all missed out on places in the squad. And with old hands Jens Lehmann, Torsten Frings, Kevin Kuranyi and Christoph Metzelder having all fallen out of favour since UEFA EURO 2008, Joachim Low’s relatively inexperienced squad has a youthful look about it.
That lack of international know-how did not stop Low’s young guns from racking up nine goals in their three warm-up wins, though their achilles heel could be in central defence, where Per Mertesacker and Arne Friedrich will be teaming up for the first time.
In contrast Australia have made few to the well-knit unit that clinched a surprise place in the Round of 16 four years ago. The duel between the towering Joshua Kennedy and the German defence will prove crucial to Socceroo hopes of a notable result in Durban.
Dejan Stankovic (SRB) v Sulley Muntari (GHA)
Just weeks after helping Inter Milan claim the UEFA Champions League crown, Stankovic and Muntari will act out what promises to be an intriguing sub-plot in Tshwane/Pretoria. Operating down the same side of the pitch, the Nerrazzurri team-mates will be keeping a very close eye on each other, with the muscular Muntari hoping to snuff out the threat posed by the accomplished Stankovic. Should he find time to get forward, the Ghana midfielder will be hoping to reprise the spectacular goals he struck against Czech Republic at Germany 2006 and Guinea at the CAF African Cup of Nations Ghana 2008.
What they said
“This is far and away our most important match and it will set the tone for the first phase. A win will give us confidence, but a defeat will put us under a lot of pressure. It goes without saying that this is 'the' game for us,” Karim Matmour, Algeria midfielder.
Algeria scored the biggest upset of the 1982 FIFA World Cup Spain™ when they beat reigning European champions West Germany 2-1 in the group phase. Though the north Africans followed up with a 3-2 defeat of Chile, they failed to progress to the next round.
In their only FIFA World Cup finals outing to date, at Germany 2006, Ghana did not draw any of their four games. 2-0 victors over Czech Republic, they also beat USA 2-1 and lost 2-0 to eventual champions Italy, before succumbing 3-0 to Brazil in the Round of 16.
This is the first time that Serbia have played at the world finals as a nation in their own right. A former republic of Yugoslavia, who made nine appearances on the big stage between 1930 and 1998, Serbia ran out at Germany 2006 under the name Serbia-Montenegro, falling to three defeats in a disappointing group-phase showing.