Nickname: The Socceroos
FIFA ranking: 20
How they got here: Cruised through, after switching from Oceania to the Asian confederation -- which meant that they no longer had to win a play-off against a South American team to qualify.
Record in previous tournaments: Knocked out at the round of 16 in 2006 -- their best-ever finish -- after a controversial game against Italy.
Manager: Pim Verbeek, previously the assistant to Magical Guus HiddinkTM and manager of South Korea.
Players to watch: Everton's Tim Cahill, an attacking midfielder with an uncanny ability to be in the right place to thump in a header, is the team's talisman. Apart from that, players like Lucas Neill and Brett Emerton are solid but not spectacular. Harry Kewell could provide some surprises from the wing, if he doesn't fall apart halfway through the tournament.
Nickname: They're called the Fußballnationalmannschaft, which isn't really a nickname (it means "the national men's football team") but is kind of awesomely homoerotic.
FIFA ranking: 6
How they got here: A stereotypically efficient campaing, as they topped their group in Europe.
Record in previous tournaments: Have won three times (1954, 1974 and 1990). Runners-up to Brazil in 2002, and finished third in 2006 after an extra-time loss to Italy in the semi-finals.
Manager: Joachim Löw, who was Jürgen Klinsmann's right-hand man in 2006.
Players to watch: Veteran striker Miroslav Klose has 48 goals in 93 international caps; he'll probably be partnered with Cologne's Lukas Podolski. Erstwhile captain Michael Ballack is out of the tournament with a knee injury, which is a big loss. Philipp Lahm is a talented (albeit pocket-sized) defender, but he doesn't have quite the same presence. Bastian Schweinsteiger will step into Ballack's place in the centre; also keep an eye on midfielder Mesut Ozil, just 21 years old.
Nickname: The Black Stars
FIFA ranking: 32
How they got here: Struggled in the first round of qualifying but eased through their final group.
Record in previous tournaments: Lost to Germany at the round of 16 in 2006, their first appearance at the tournament.
Manager: Milovan Rajevac, who was previously a coach in Serbia.
Players to watch: Asamoah Gyan will probably be the lone striker, supported by Sulley Muntari and captain Stephen Appiah in midfield. But the absence of Chelsea's Michael Essien due to a knee injury
is a massive blow (notably, he was suspended for that loss against Germany in 2006).
Nickname: The White Eagles
FIFA ranking: 15
How they got here: Top of a qualifying group that included France and Romania.
Record in previous tournaments: This is Serbia's first World Cup as a fully independent nation. But they had a number of quarter-final appearances and one fourth-place finish (in 1962) as part of Yugoslavia.
Manager: Radomir Antic, who took over in 2008 after a variety of coaching gigs in Spain.
Players to watch: Manchester United's Nemanja Vidic, who has the killer robot look that you expect from a world-class centre-back. Captain Dejan Stankovic, who's fresh from winning the Champions League with Inter, will be pulling the strings in midfield, while Milan Jovanovic is a threat on the wing.
Verdict on the group
This is a tough one to call -- especially after the injuries to Ballack and Essien, the teams could be quite evenly matched. I do expect Germany to go through, because the Germans just don't get knodked out at the group stage. They just don't. As for the second team, I was going to pick Australia, but looking at the order of their matches (starting against Germany is never a good thing), I'm going to vote for Serbia instead.
Friday, June 11, 2010