The name of the game in today's three matches is low scoring. Algeria-Slovenia -- worth watching because it features the USA's next two opponents -- features two teams that like to counter-attack. Slovenia play a very traditional 4-4-2, with a textbook target man and forward; the midfield will look to pump long balls to Milivoje Novakovic who will use his height to set up his partner Zlatko Dedic. Those two will be on their own as this is an extremely defensive team, albeit a well-organized one. Slovenia will be able to withstand pressure.
It will face off against a depleted Algeria that will likely put the majority of the team behind the ball. Star defender Nadir Belhadj is out through suspension, and captain Yazid Mansouri has been dropped by the coach. Despite qualifying with a three man defense, Algeria looks set to line up in a similar 4-4-2. This has stalemate written all over it.
This is a tough one to call: neither side should be underestimated, as both got here by winning playoff matches most predicted they would lose (Slovenia beat Russia, Algeria overcame Egypt). Expect tense, tentative, low-scoring, counter-attacking soccer. A lot more is at stake here than it might have seemed 24 hours ago as both England and the US look more vulnerable than many expected.
This match -- the first of the day in Group D, the so-called "Group of Death" -- promises to be a tough, gritty game as well. Ghana is an exciting, well-organized team that plays fluid football. The question is how good will it be without star Michael Essien, recently lost to injury. The central midfield is still the strongest position for the Black Stars, with Stephen Appiah and Sulley Muntari orchestrating the attack. The young and relatively unknown defensive midfielder Anthony Annan is an exciting prospect too and at the back, John Mensah and John Paintsil are formidable as well.. How crucial was Essien to a team we thought had the potential to reach the semis with him? We're about to find out.
Underrated Serbia - winner of its European qualification group that included both France and Romania -- features the so-called "wall of iron" at the back, with Manchester United's Nemanja Vidic pulling the strings. There should be a spot, too, for former USA youth star and Salt Lake City-raised Neven Subotic. Chelsea supporters will recognize Branislav Ivanovic on the right side. Serbia tends to play with two central midfielders, including recent Champions League winner Dejan Stankovic of Inter (the only man to play at three World Cups with three different teams - Yugoslavia, Serbia and Montenegro, and now Serbia). However, as some have pointed out, Ghana's tough central midfield could prompt Serbia to adopt a 4-2-3-1 formation to control the game.
This promises to be a very physical, intense match, and whoever can control the midfield early on will hope to dominate possession and dictate the pace of the game. It's a toss-up who that will be. This is likely the match that will decide the second spot in the group, and so is crucial for both teams. We think the winner is a potential sleeper.
Dejan Stankovic is playing in his third Cup for a different nation.
Germany-Australia is likely to be a tense affair, too, though for different reasons. Of course, the Germans can score: Miroslav Klose is a World Cup record holder, having scored 5 or more goals at two consecutive tournaments. This young German attack-line is relatively unknown, but looks promising on paper, featuring regular Lukas Podolski (always infinitely better for the national team than his club), but also Mesut Ozil, only 21. There could also be a place for the exciting Marko Marin or Toni Kroos, 21 and 20 respectively. This match should be an indicator of how effective this new, younger German side can be - one of the youngest in the tournament, which is unusual for a polished team.
Australia, in contrast, has next to no attacking options, and so the side's only hope in this tournament is to rely on its defense to produce a series of 1-0 victories. The Socceroos will line-up in a 4-2-3-1, and lots of pressure will be on the two defensive midfielders - Vince Grella and Jason Culina -- to protect the backline from the Germans. This side is still benefiting from mastermind tactician Guus Hiddink's reign from 2006, and so is extremely well organized. What's more, much like the American side, the Aussies are blessed with a match-winning goalkeeper - Fulham's Mark Schwarzer. The Germans will struggle to break the Australians down, though a loss would come as a huge surprise.
All in all, it will be a day that promises to provide defensive but entertaining soccer.