What: Ghana vs Germany
When: Wednesday, June 23 at 2:30 p.m. ET
Where: Soccer City Stadium, Johannesburg
The top two teams in Group D—which are also the two youngest teams in the tournament—could be battling for the right to play the runners-up from Group C, which may be the United States. Three-time world champions Germany began this World Cup in style, but they slipped up in game two. They face possibly Africa’s biggest hope in Ghana, who until Tuesday were the only team from the continent to have won a game this summer.
Ghana’s inexperience has shown up in group play, even if the African side is unbeaten and holding on to the top spot with 4 points. Though boasting bags of energy when transitioning, the Black Stars are impatient in the final third, often resorting to launching pot-shots from distance. It’s perhaps no surprise, then, that both of their goals in this tournament have come from the penalty spot.
Tallying both scores was Asamoah Gyan, a confident 24-year-old who has attracted the interest of a few Premier League clubs this summer. He’ll be flanked by a creative midfield led by Prince Tagoe, Kwadwo Asamoah and Dede Ayew.
"It looks like we might be the only African nation with a genuine chance of reaching the next round," Gyan told reporters.
It seemed as though the Germans would sail through the group stages after they thrashed Australia 4-0 in their opener. However, they then dropped a 1-0 decision to Serbia in a game that saw star striker Miroslav Klose ejected. Klose will miss this fixture through suspension, and he will be replaced up top by Brazilian-born Cacau.
"We know our qualities and have no doubt that we'll make it," Cacau told reporters. "I can see that my teammates have the confidence that we'll win."
A win is enough for Germany. However, a tie could see them exit if Serbia beats a poor Australia team.
Unless they get a win, Germany could very well be looking at their earliest-ever exit from a World Cup. Ghana are carrying the hopes of a continent, and because they need just a draw to secure their future, expect an unusualy cagey, tight game on their behalf. However, in transition they could use their speed to get behind the Germany defense and cause problems for goalkeeper Manuel Neuer.
Though Germany could also struggle a bit without Klose, history tells us they ultimately have the big-game pedigree to hold off the Black Stars and move on.
What: Australia vs Serbia
When: Wednesday, June 23 at 2:30 p.m. ET
Where: Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit
After following up their dismal group openers with improved performances, both of these teams have legitimate shots at the next round. Australia will advance if they defeat Serbia and Ghana hold off Germany, whereas Serbia could progress with just a draw, provided Germany lose to Ghana.
The Aussies have not made life easy for themselves so far. They’ve played more of this tournament with 10 players than with a full squad, but somehow they’ve pulled together and kept in the race. They’ll be without former Liverpool man Harry Kewell, who is suspended, but they welcome the return of Everton’s Tim Cahill, who was ejected in the opener.
Cahill is Australia’s engine. His inclusion could mean all the difference to a squad sorely lacking in creativity and guile, and the Aussies have never lost a competitive when he’s been on the scoresheet.
"We’re still on course for qualification,” midfielder Brett Emerton told reporters. “We’ll go into the next match with a huge amount of confidence, and the certainty that we have the means to win it. This is the World Cup, a huge competition that we couldn’t wait to contest, so our catastrophic start was very disappointing.”
Australia are not the only side to welcome a key player back at just the right time. Aleksandar Lukovic returns to the Serbia lineup after he was red-carded in their group opener, and the Udinese defender will pair up with Manchester United’s Nemanja Vidic in central defense. The steely partnership has conceded just one goal—a late PK—in the tournament so far.
At the other end, the Serbs have struggled offensively in two games, managing a lone goal only after Germany were down to 10 men. To that end, they’ll hope that striker Milan Jovanovic’s concentration won’t be rocked by reports that his move to Liverpool deal could be in flux. The forward has told media that he may follow former Reds boss Rafa Benitez to Inter Milan, despite signing a pre-contract on Merseyside.
"We’re keeping our feet on the ground and we now have to concentrate on Australia and not underestimate them," midfielder Radosav Petrovic. "They’ve got a lot of character. We need to play the way we did against Germany."
This fixture has 0-0 all over it, which may not help either team. However, Serbia’s task is simple—win to progress. With such a clear vision, paired with a far superior defense, expect Serbia to lock down should they earn a goal. Australia are simply not equipped to break down a Serb side running a holding pattern—unless, of course, Cahill can unleash the magic that sent Australia to the knockout round in 2006.