Port Elizabeth (South Africa), June 17 (DPA) Friday’s game between Germany and Serbia represents a moment of truth for both teams’ ambitions.
Germany have been arguably the tournament’s most impressive team so far with their 4-0 rout of hapless Australia. But many fans and critics want to know: was the victory due to Germany’s quality, or Australia’s ineptness in allowing the German midfield to maraud unopposed behind enemy lines?
The game against Serbia should help answer that question and give an indication whether the relentlessly ambitious Germans can go all the way to the final.
Serbia knows that after a 0-1 loss to Ghana in its opening game a loss to their powerful European rivals will almost guarantee an early departure from the tournament – a huge disappointment for a team featuring stars like Manchester United’s Nemja Vidic, Inter Milan’s Dejan Stankovic and Valencia’s Nikola Zigic.
‘It is Serbia’s last chance to stay in the tournament and we’ll have to be very careful and concentrated,’ Hansi Flick, Germany assistant coach, assessed. ‘Australia was no measuring stick and Serbia is a very good team, with players in top clubs in Europe.
‘We will have to improve what we did well against Australia.’
The Germans are expected to concentrate on cutting off supply to the towering Zigic, whose knock-downs to teammates are the platform of many Serbian attacks.
Coach Joachim Loew is expected to follow the maxim of never changing a winning team, now that midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger has recovered from cold and goalscorer extraordinaire Miroslav Klose has rediscovered the scoring touch which had deserted him throughout the domestic season.
Serbia, which is ranked 15th in the world according to FIFA, is determined however not to make life easy for the Germans in either attack or defence.
‘This upcoming match is really a historic match for us,’ Serbia coach Radomir Antic said. ‘But Germany should also inspire us to regain the passion and joy in our game. We were too tight against Ghana, we failed mentally. All our players have to raise their level.’
Serbia will also have to carefully watch their aggression levels. The team incurred two yellows and a red in losing to a mediocre Ghana team. Similar tactics against Germany could lead to a flood of bookings from Spanish referee Albert Undiano.
‘Defeat has influenced our mood,’ said striker Milan Jovanovic.
‘We had expected to win the match against Ghana and we are all hurt by that failure. We missed out on our aim against an inferior rival and now we are in a position where we have to get as many points as possible against better teams than us.’
Jovanovich was under no illusions how hard that will be.
‘Germany were very impressive against Australia,’ he said. ‘They have made the biggest impact at the World Cup so far. They are like a machine, they have seven players going forward. If we want to upset them, we will have to show no fear and play the best we can, because we face a better team.’
The state of the pitch could also have a major impact on the game. FIFA cancelled both teams’ training sessions at the Nelson Mandela Bay stadium on Thursday as two days of heavy downpours turned the already scuffed turf into a veritable quagmire that could seriously hamper Germany’s short passing game. Luckily for Germany the weather forecast is for several days of sun.