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World Cup Preview - Group D

Group D has the potential to be one of the closest and most hard fought in the opening round of this World Cup. Group favourites Germany will battle it out with Australia, Serbia and Ghana.

Germany will go into the World Cup with less expectation on them than in a long time. This in itself, however, makes them a dangerous proposition. Their squad is loaded with Bayern Munich players who won the domestic double and who had such a good Champions League campaign. They will be keen to replicate those successes.

They have, however, suffered several injury setbacks. Their first choice goalkeeper Rene Adler suffered a rib injury and Bayer Leverkusen midfielder Simon Rolfes has a knee problem. Michael Ballack injured his ankle in the FA Cup final, and the man pencilled in to replace him, Christian Traesch, suffered a knee injury in their friendly win over Swiss club FC Tyrol. So, at the moment manager Joachim Loew has only six midfielders in his squad, and this could be a problem.

Australia will go into the finals in confident mood. Their squad will have a familiar look about it, with half of them having played on these shores at some time. They have undoubted talent, and 'soccer' in Australia has progressed so much recently that this will be their second World Cup in succession, having narrowly, and controversially, been beaten by eventual winners Italy four years ago.

One player not to make it though is Middlesbrough's prolific ex-Celtic striker Scott Macdonald, who according to the Socceroos coach Pim Verbeek 'doesn't fit into the system'. This is a big call, as it means that they will go into the Finals with only two recognised strikers, and one of these, Josh Kennedy, is recovering from a back injury and not yet fully fit. Australia's lack of firepower could be their downfall, and it will take a special effort from their midfield stars Cahill, Kewell and Emerton to get them the goals needed to progress.

Serbia could be one of the dark horses of this World Cup. Perhaps their only weakness is in the goalkeeping department, where Chris Kirkland's stand in at Wigan, Vladimir Stojkovic will line up. The good news for him, though, is that he will be behind a solid looking defence, which includes Nemanja Vidic and Branislav Ivanovic.

Serbia are led by canny coach Radomir Antic, the ex-Luton Town defender who has also coached both Madrid clubs and Barcelona, and skippered by Dejan Stankovic - who has just picked up a Champions League winners medal with Inter.

After an impressive second half of the season on loan at Cologne from Manchester United,Zoran Tosic,will be hoping to prove to Sir Alex Ferguson that he still has a future at Old Trafford, and Nikola Zigic, who Birmingham fans can look forward to seeing next season will lead the line with power. I think they will have enough to get through to the last 16.

Pushing them all the way, though, will be Ghana led by Chelsea's Michael Essien. Essien hasn't been fit for Chelsea's domestic double triumph, but should be back to his best when the Black Stars take on Serbia on the 13th June. This is a game which will go a long way to deciding who escapes from the Group.

Ghana have one of the most powerful midfields in world football, with Essien joined by Stephen Appiah, Anthony Annan and Sulley Muntari. If they are on their game, they can worry any team, but it will be at the ends of the field where their fate will be sealed. On their day, strikers Asamoah Gyan and Matthew Amoah can be good, but they will need to be better than good in this World Cup if they are to progress. They cannot solely rely on goals from the midfield.

At the back, Fulham's John Pantsil and Sunderland's John Mensah will attempt to shore up what at times can be an undisciplined defence. Germany and Serbia both have the attacking power with which to undo Ghana's defence, and with Wigan's third choice goalkeeper, Richard Kingston, behind them, teams will fancy their chances of scoring.

Make no mistake - this will be a close group. But if Germany doesn't go through, it will be a World Cup shock of note and if Australia do, they will have again punched above their weight. Ghana could be the team to watch, and dark horses Serbia will be the surprise package.

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