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Group D opponents Serbia and Ghana give Germany food for thought

Germany’s Group D opponents Serbia and Ghana played out a largely dour game in Pretoria on Sunday afternoon which will have provided Jogi Loew with a little more insight into the pitfalls that may await his young team.

Serbia's Aleksandar Kolarov, left, vies with Ghana's John Pantsil during the World Cup group D soccer match between Serbia and Ghana at the Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Pretoria, South Africa, Sunday, June 13, 2010.

Serbia and Ghana could both cause Germany problems

The game at the Loftus Versfeld Stadium, which started at a frenetic pace, went to sleep until the last 15 minutes when Aleksandar Lukovic was sent off, Ghana keeper Richard Kingson made two miraculous saves and Asamoah Gyan put away the winning penalty after Zdravko Kuzmanovic inexplicably handled in the box.

However it was another Asamoah - Kwadwo Asamoah – who ran the game for Ghana from the middle of the pitch, conducting play and pushing his team's attacks forward from deep. The Black Stars' midfielder was certainly a strong candidate for man-of-the-match.

Germany's coaching staff and players will have been watching Asamoah's contribution with interest and may well single him out for special treatment as the most dangerous player in the Ghana midfield when they face each other in their final game of Group D on June 23.

Ghana midfielder Asamoah pivotal to attacking threat

Ghana's Dede Ayew, left, heads the ball as Serbia's Nemanja Vidic tries to block him during the World Cup group D soccer match between Serbia and Ghana at the Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Pretoria, South Africa, Sunday, June 13, 2010.

Ghana broke well but resorted to lofted crosses into the box

Asamoah was the fulcrum of the Ghana team on Sunday – whether or not he will remain so depends on whether Ghana's Serbian coach Milovan Rajevac brings Inter Milan's Sulley Muntari back into the starting line-up or gives stalwart Stephan Appiah a run-out. But on this performance against Serbia, it is likely that Asamoah will be the man who links Ghana's defense to its attack against the Germans.

Ghana defended very deeply throughout the match and fell back in large numbers whenever the Serbians broke. As soon as the threat had been neutralized, usually by some desperate defending and bodies being thrown in front of the ball, the play was immediately fed out to Asamoah. From his central position, the Udinese midfielder would then run at the retreating Serbs.

Throughout the game, Ghana would stretch the play to the very by-lines with Asamoah feeding either Prince Tagoe on the right or Andre Ayew on the left. Serbia were dragged out of position by this tactic which allowed Gyan and Kevin-Prince Boateng to exploit the vacuum created in front of the Serbian defense. More often or not, however, the Ghanaians resorted to lofted balls into the Serbian penalty area rather than switching play to the forwards on the edge of the box.

Lofted balls no problem for aerially-savvy Germans

Spain's Fernando Torres, left, and Germany's Per Mertesacker challenge for the ball during the Euro 2008 final between Germany and Spain in the Ernst-Happel stadium in Vienna, Austria, Sunday, June 29, 2008, the last day of the European Soccer Championships in Austria and Switzerland.

Mertesacker and Friedrich will be ready for any aerial assault

If this is a tactic they intend to stick with throughout the group stages, Germany's central defenders will have little trouble cutting out the high balls. Per Mertesacker and Arne Friedrich are both tall players and accomplished in aerial battles. Ghana lacked initiative when running directly at the Serbian defense and often headed straight into danger or chose to shoot from distance, which will also play into Germany's hands.

Should the tactic of stretching play to the wings also endure, Germany's creative midfield trio of Lukas Podolski, Mesut Oezil and Thomas Mueller will have to be ready to drop back to the edge of their own box while wing-backs Philipp Lahm and perhaps Kevin-Prince's brother Jerome will have to watch that they don't get caught too up-field in support of Germany's attack.

The potential clash of the Boateng brothers is another interesting factor ahead of the Germany-Ghana game. Kevin-Prince, a former Germany Under-21 player before choosing to take his father's nationality, will have both identity issues and the potential wrath of a nation against him. It was he who injured Germany skipper Michael Ballack in the FA Cup final at the end of the season to end the iconic German's hopes of playing in South Africa. Psychological pressure may affect the youngster's potential to threaten.

On the attack, Germany's youthful creativity will be looking to exploit Ghana's sometimes erratic and jittery defense. Serbia, who play a less sophisticated version of the German game, caused chaos in Ghana's penalty area and only the lack of killer instinct prevented Serbia from punishing this weakness. Competent ball carriers like Oezil and Mueller could unlock the Ghanaians while Lukas Podolski and perhaps Miroslav Klose will have plenty of scuffed clearances to pounce on.

Germany need to cut off Serbia's midfield route to attackers

Serbia's players from right, Dejan Stankovic, Nikola Zigic, Nenad Milijas, and Marko Pantelic, form a wall as Ghana's Anthony Annan, left, looks on during the World Cup group D soccer match between Serbia and Ghana at the Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Pretoria, South Africa, Sunday, June 13, 2010.

Serbia will be obstinate opponents for Germany

The Germans may find Serbia's style of play to be similar to their own - but different enough to cause certain problems.

The Serbians found it hard to play at times against Ghana's pressing tactic when they were in possession, the Serbs being closed down at speed with space at a premium. Germany's nippy youngsters will have to employ a similar tactic to smother any attempts at creativity by the Serbian midfielders, who will be looking to release forwards Milos Krasnic, Marko Pantelic and Nikola Zigic. Should Serbia captain Dejan Stankovic find himself with time and space to cue up attacks, however, Germany could find themselves in trouble.

Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira will also have their hands full if the ball is fed to Milan Jovanovic who will operate in the areas they will be charged to protect in front of the back four. The Serbs attack in formations around the penalty area once the ball has been worked through midfield and Germany will have to cut this threat out higher up the pitch to avoid pressure.

While the Serbia-Ghana game was hardly a classic, there were signs to suggest that as these teams grow into the tournament and find their rhythm and patterns, both could provide Germany with a few obstacles as Joachim Loew's side looks to win Group D.

Author: Nick Amies
Editor: Matt Hermann

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