BfB Goes To The World Cup 2010 (Without leaving the front room)

I shall admit – dear reader – that my predications for this group was that Serbia would win and Ghana would be runners up with Germany exiting at the first stage for the first time since 1938. The 4-0 defeat of Australia and the Serbs difficulty overcoming the group’s African side suggest that those predictions – like so many others – were so easily blown away by the reality of the World Cup.

Serbia face a make or break day against Germany although group mechanics could see them lose today, beat Australia and go through is the Aussies defeated Ghana and goal difference did a dance in their favour. All of which would be a thin way to get through for a team that in qualifying promised as much as the Serbs.

Serbia take the words: A passionate people, and reinvent them.

The Germans won all the plaudits for the the first day victory although the manner of that win – the same goal scored over and over – was less comprehensive than the scoreline suggested. The Serbs field a more organised, tighter side that bulldozed them though qualifying and are hardly likely to leave the holes that Australia did.

The question is can they bring the spark in the midfield that was so badly lacking against Ghana. They start brightly enough with the odd cross and a lashed shot wide. In Nikola Žigic the Serbs have a player who tops six foot seven and they match his height against the so far untested abilities of the excellent and similarly tall at six six Per Mertesacker.

The Germans get a footing in the game with Philipp Lahm drifting forward and prompting down the right. Lukas Podolski lashes a shot wide but keeps it low as he does. The Germans have been using the Jubulani ball for the last six months and one wonders why they are the only nation to do so. Certainly the Germans look comfortable on the ball although the pace of the national game – and they are a squad who play entirely in the Bundasliga – allows for a less frantic play than some and more emphasis on ball control.

The game is cagey though – ten goals yesterday suggested that second games would be more carefree – and while the Germans attack down the flanks they find the opening twenty minutes tougher going against the more switched on Serbs. Branislav Ivanovic and Aleksandar Kolarov are both booked at they give the Germans close attention while Miroslav Klose shows a frustration picking up a booking after being thwarted in an attacking thrust. Sami Khedira goes into the book for a trip as the Serbs build up.

The game is scrappy or patient but rarely exciting. The Serb performance narrows the midfield in a way that could blot out the sun from any side but the counters that come as a result of drawing teams on are easily dealt with by the Germans who attack with pace but commit four players, five at most, and seldom do they have even numbers.

Philipp Lahm is booked for bringing down Nikola Žigic on the edge of the box and one starts to wonder how this game will effect the final group game with the prospect of suspensions. Kolarov winds up a shot which gets over the wall and down again but is wide of Manuel Neuer’s goal.

A red card comes and surprisingly goes to Miroslav Klose who for a second time in the game is booked or running back and tripping a Serb player – this time – Dejan Stankovic. Referee Alberto Undiano Mallenco is unrepentant dismissing Klose with an arrogant authority and while the Germans complain it is hard to say that Klose should be allowed to drop back into midfield and stop attacks with unfair play. The red card is his third offence – all chasing back and spoiling play.

Klose’s fouls stop attacking football and that should be punished. That Alberto Undiano Mallenco has a dim view of his actions is not at all inappropriate and perhaps any ire should be aimed at the German striker for not allowing the Serbs to attack without tripping them.

The sending off shakes the Germans and within minutes they are a goal behind when Žigic is hit with a long ball and rises to head to Milan Jovanovic in the box. The ball takes an age to drop to Jovanovic who is but three yards out and Neuer tries to make himself big in the goal but when the connection comes the ball nestles in the back of the German goal.

The Serbs mix with their supporters in celebration. They have started their World Cup.

The Germans have to press and so they do. Serb keeper Stojkovic flaps at Mesut Özil’s corner and the ball falls to Khedira who rattles the cross bar with a hammer shot. The Serb defenders are static and the goal seems at the German’s mercy on the rebound but Alberto Undiano Mallenco blows his whistle for dangerous play as the team in white try force the ball in with an over he shoulder kick.

Half time comes and goes and one wonders how Joachim Löw will send his side out. They need a goal but – realistically considering the next game against Ghana and the goal difference racked up against Australia – only the single goal to get a draw and perhaps the best way to achieve that is ensure the Serbs do not abandon their defensive stance to come out at the Germans by bringing on a second striker. Özil takes the role at present.

The Germans certainly start to attack with some vigour taking the game to the Serbs but as a result they leave space in the midfield which is gobbled up. Philipp Lahm brings down Jovanovic as he runs through but Referee Alberto Undiano Mallenco does not twitch to his pocket. Neven Subotic brings down Özil – another booking – and from the free kick a low ball is worked diagonally from Özil to Podolski who fires past the keepers far post.

Germany though seem set to have more chances and it is almost unbelievable that Serbia will finish the game with eleven men. Özil continues to drift away from defenders receiving a powerful pass and putting it back to Podolski who fires wide.

Madness descends. A cross into the box which is hardly even dangerous is handled by Nemanja Vidic and one is wondering why the experienced and highly rated Manchester United player would have such a brain freeze when Podolski drives a penalty low and to the left of Stojkovic who dives and saves well.

It is the first penalty missed of the World Cup and it is missed by a German. Perhaps they will check his passport and note Podolski is born Polish.

All of which seems to take the wind out of the German team. Jovanovic pops a ball against the post after Miloš Krasic weaves his way down the right hand side. There is an unwillingness on the field to make a tackle and perhaps as a result the football have improved in the second half. The Serbs seem ready to try soak up pressure and counter and the Germans recover from their post-penalty slumber and start an assault. Thomas Müller and Özil probe the Serbian defence but the lack of targets in the box sees Podolski hammer a shot wide.

A willing worker and a good goalscorer in years past Podolski may suffer after today’s game but it would be hard on the striker were he to become scapegoat if the Germans cannot recover.

Space continues to open around the German box and Žigic rattles the bar with a header after Miloš Krasic floats a wonderful cross to him. The Serbs keep Žigic up front alone and start to feed in from both flanks but always the wide men are isolated either crossing or losing the ball, never supported. The Germans bring on third striker Mario Gómez willing to risk conceding to try draw.

Gojko Kacar should double the lead after Žigic is able to head cleanly and unchallenged to him in the box. Two minutes later Žigic is clearing his own box as the Germans play a free kick in. That move breaks down when a Serb hits the ball with all the power he could muster at a German to win a throw in. I’ve seen players booked for unsportsmanlike behaviour doing that.

Playing in this way will will win Serbia no friends but it will win them matches and for a nation so recently used to conflict there is a sense that they would rather have victory than plaudits.

Podolski smashes another shot wide and the Germans are credited with an uncharacteristic all in attacking push turning the last ten minutes into forward practice but nothing comes of it.

Both teams must wait until tomorrow to see the result of the Ghana vs Australia game and in the hours between now and then there will be endless permutations on the basis of results from that game and how they will effect the chances of progress for both these sides.

So while the Germans are sleepless in worry and the Serbs in joy Ghana will go into tomorrows match against a so far woeful Australian side seeing in front of them an opportunity to all but secure progression to the next round.


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