By Ryan Thies of the Long Beach Post
There are 32 teams in the World Cup. 31 of them won’t win it. Which means that each team has a 97% chance to NOT win the Cup. Therefore my assumption is that no one will win it. I think I’m on pretty strong mathematical footing for that assumption. But even if I’m wrong and someone will win it, that someone will certainly not come from Group D… (the D stands for “Draaaaaama”)
Ghana – Group D is not the Group of Death, instead they are the Wildcard Group, which could prove to be a very tough one because there is no weak link. All 4 teams are ranked in the Top 40 in the World. But what really makes it tough is that the “weakest” group ranking-wise is Ghana at 37th in the world. The Black Stars (as in the logo on their country’s flag) are kinda the chic pick of this year’s field, partly because they had a solid performance in the 2006 World Cup (making it out of that year’s Group of Death) and in this year’s African Cup of Nations (2nd place.) And partly because the home-soil factor is a big one (although like Nigeria and Ivory Coast, they are actually quite a long distance from South Africa.)
But while they have the history and the talent, they aren’t going to win it all and they probably aren’t even going to make it out of the Group because the biggest strike against them is their goal-scoring. They made it to the African Cup finals (through the group, quarters, and semis) by scoring a total of 4 goals. Obviously when you’re holding your opponent scoreless, all it takes is a single goal, but there are some real threats to score all throughout this Group and if any opponent gets even one goal it’s hard to imagine Ghana keeping up with them. And now with midfield star, Michael Essien, missing the Cup due to injury, the team is missing one of its most experienced players. Can they still have 3 clean-sheets to escape the Group stage? Yes. Will four goals total in this tournament get them as far as it did in Africa? No. They are a physically imposing team but it’s going to take some firepower to win it all and they just don’t have it. However they have already laid the groundwork for success (which I will save for the Germany section…)
Australia – I’ll just come right out and say it: I like the Aussies. They drink, they have fun, and their women are pretty. All in all it’s not a party til the Aussies show up. And last World Cup they proved that. They opened the tourney with an amazing comeback, scoring twice in the final 6 minutes to beat Japan, they then went out and took their whooping from Brazil like men, and then they held on in the final game to draw and advance. They even put up a decent fight against the Italians before they got eliminated. It was a successful tournament and a good time was had by all.
I talk exclusively about the last World Cup because that Australia team hasn’t really been together much since then. Qualifying through Asia was a breeze but coming back to Australia from Europe is a long-flight and most times the Socceroos (don’t you just love them? Socceroos! They call it “soccer” and they love Kangaroos! We need more Aussies in the States…) don’t put their full team together. As a result we can’t really be sure how they’re going to perform. We know they have scorers, we know their keeper does well in London, and we know they’re going to have fun. We also know they’re not going to win it all. But a few pints and some cute girls and it will all work out just fine for them.
Serbia – Just like Ghana and Australia, we’re not quite sure what Serb team is going to show up. All of them have some real talent (most of the Serbian team plays in the best leagues in the world) but that wild-card factor is what makes this group so dangerous. Serbia is going to be interesting to watch for a few reasons, one of which is watching American commentators try to pronounce their names (this team has more vowels than my keyboard could ever dream of) but the other half is that this team could be the surprise of the tournament. I’m not going to say they could beat the US or England, I’m not even willing to bet that they will make it out of this group, all I’m going to see is that I wouldn’t be surprised if they did it.
Serbia’s White Eagles (again, not a made-up name) didn’t qualify for the Euro ’08 but they did qualify for the 2006 World Cup (of course given the region’s history, any team before then literally was a different country). But the ’06 team ran into Argentina, Netherlands, and the Ivory Coast so they didn’t have much of a shot (and lost all 3 games). If this year’s team can put a goal or two past Ghana in the opening game, can keep their game against Germany close, they could then enter Game 3 against Australia with a chance to advance. But even as they have the talent to surprise some people, they still don’t have the talent to win it all.
Germany – Die Mannschaft saw their chances change significantly during the English FA Cup. Their captain, Michael Ballack, was injured in that game- hurting his ankle so severely that he will miss the World Cup. What makes this injury even more interesting is who injured him. Kevin-Prince Boateng. A Ghanaian national. Ballack believes the injury was deliberate, aiming to keep him out of Group D. Whether it was or not, that’s exactly what happened. Suddenly a strong favorite to win the Cup loses their captain. But they gained a chip on their shoulder. What is more important- your team leader or your team’s motivation? How Germany plays will be an interesting test case for that very question.
Before the injury, this team might have been the most difficult to outright dismiss as a team that won’t win it all. They don’t have the history of coming up short like Spain, Netherlands, and England do. They aren’t necessarily over-the-hill the way Italy or France is. They don’t have the apathy that Brazil has or the schizophrenia that Argentina has. They don’t have the delusional fans that Uruguay has (see guys, I didn’t forget about you.)
This may come as a surprise but Germany (not Brazil) has the best World Cup history. In the last 60 years, Brazil has won it 5 times and Germany has won it only 3 but the Germans have a total of 10 trips to the Semi-Finals (compared with only eight for the Brazilians- including three 2nd place finishes for Germany vs. only 1 for Brazil.) Germany hasn’t been eliminated in the Group stage in over 70 years. Even as the country (and therefore the talent) was split in two for much of the last century, Germany has always been a football-power. To prepare for the World Cup, Germany has put together an incredibly tough series of friendlies (read: exhibitions) and they have not always gone well.
Last November they tied Ivory Coast, this past March they lost to Argentina, they only put two goals past South Africa. But this is the same team that took 3rd place in the last World Cup, they took 2nd place in the last European Championships, and this team will SCORE. Even without Ballack, they have more goal-threats than anyone else in the world. If they win their Group they could potentially have the Americans waiting for them in the elimination round (whom Germany eliminated in the 2002 WC Quarters.) They could then meet the Argentina team in this year’s Quarters (which would be a shoot-out!) BUT…that would be the problem, anyone they meet could turn into a shoot-out. They don’t have a lock-down defense the way some other major powers do, and there’s still some question marks surrounding their keeper situation (mostly due to inexperience, not lack of talent.)
But besides their potentially suspect defense and the missing team captain, German has two other strikes against them winning it all. 1) No one will win it all (I thought I made that pretty clear) and 2) tired legs. A lot of their team plays for Bayern Munich who because of their Champion’s League success will have absolutely no break between their club season and the World Cup. In fact, Germany takes a longer winter break than a lot of Europe and as a result these guys will have played 27 games in the 22 weeks leading up to the World Cup. If they limp into the opener against the Aussies, and the Socceroos (I just love saying their name) sneak a 3rd goal in to win 3-2, or if Serbia has enough to upset the Germans, suddenly Die Mannschaft could be facing a very physical Ghana team for their World Cup lives. Will they have enough to rise up and find that extra gear on tired legs? There’s a 97% chance they won’t…and if they can’t do it, no one can.
Ryan Thies is a writer for The Long Beach Post. This Column originally appeared on the Long Beach Post and is republished here with written consent.