Algeria are not technically outstanding but they make up for this with a hard-running and committed style of play. Coach Saadane, the only African coach in the tournament, has had his preparations disrupted by injuries, and has chosen to drop captain Yazid Mansouri in favour of Hassan Yebda. It’s not the best preparation going in to a World Cup.
Slovenia, for a nation of just two million people, have performed extremely well. Drawn in a Group that featured the Czech Republic and Poland, they sealed qualification by defeating Russia in a play-off.
Although the team has no big names the key players are captain and attacking midfielder Robert Koren, Cologne striker Novakovic, and goalkeeper Handanovic. In reality this is a play-off for third and fourth spot which I believe will be won by Slovenia.
Germany faces an interesting game against difficult opponents in Australia. I expect the Australians to defend in depth and to try and frustrate Germany, relying upon set-pieces and counterattacks to steal a goal. Germany will show discipline and patience, and use wingers
Podolski and Marin to stretch their opponents and deliver some telling crosses into the box. This is a German team that combines experience with the promise of younger players drawn from the team that won last season’s European U21 Championship. Adopting a 4-2-3-1 formation, I expect Ozil and Marin to be influential, and Sami Khedira to seize the chance created by Ballack’s absence.
For Australia Everton midfielder Tim Cahill is important and a threat, goalkeeper Schwarzer is underrated and in Lucas Neill, Emmerton and Kewell they have experience. My expectation is for Germany to show patience in collecting a 2-0 win.
Serbia against Ghana is a finely balanced match that could go either way. The Serbians are strong defensively with Manchester United’s Vidic and Ivanovic of Chelsea, have quality in midfield in Stankovic of Inter Milan, while striker
Nikola Zigic could emerge as one of the stars of the tournament.
They will start favourites in this game, but only just. Ghana are a strong team but very young, and the loss of Essien could prove fatal to their hopes. A lot will depend on the ability of experienced defenders Pantsil and Mensah, and midfielders Boateng and Appia to get the best out of the young stars who won the FIFA U20 World Cup last year.