Game preview: Ghana-Australia
Despite generally outplaying Serbia, Ghana might have gotten more than it deserved in the first game, as a late penalty was the difference. On the other side, Australia probably isn't as bad as its first-match drubbing by Germany would indicate, but the Socceroos have lost a pair of key players for this match.
What's on the line:
Group D promised to be one of the more competitive foursomes, and after a tame first round of games, Serbia's upset of Germany has broken things wide-open. Ghana could take a giant step toward qualifying with a win, but even a victory would assure nothing yet. The Black Stars need all three points to avoid a must-win situation against the Germans, who will need a win in the closing match. With Serbia's victory, Australia has a chance to get right back in the thick of things if it can handle Ghana, while a loss would eliminate the Socceroos.
Style and tactics:
Australia prides itself on being a tough team to play against, with some skill at the top of a 4-4-2 that sometimes looks more like a 4-5-1. But that defensive toughness has deserted it of late, and needing a result above all else, coach Pim Verbeek may be forced to be a little more aggressive.
After successfully pressuring a Serbian defense considered more solid than Australia's, Ghana has confidence in its 4-4-2. The Black Stars rely on a combination of raw speed out wide and some flashy but powerful play up front from namesakes Kwadwo Asamoah and Asamoah Gyan. The confident Ghanaians have openly boasted about their plan to run the Socceroos ragged with their pace.
Players to watch:
Asamoah Gyan, Ghana. The Ghanaian attack is spearheaded by the quick and powerful Gyan. Still thought of as a striker yet to fulfill his potential, the 24-year-old is showing signs of making this World Cup his coming-out party.
Sulley Muntari, Ghana. The oft-injured veteran is fit again after recovering from a knock that kept him out of the opening match, but there may be no room on the starting team given the performance of Andre Ayew against Serbia. If he doesn't start, Muntari would make an influential sub.
Anthony Annan, Ghana. The diminutive defensive midfielder's distribution and composure were excellent against the tough Serbs. It will be interesting to see how Michael Essien's nominal replacement holds up against the equally physical Aussies.
Harry Kewell, Ghana. Having mostly recovered from a nagging groin injury, Kewell could be back in the lineup for Australia, which is dealing with the red-card suspension of front-line leader Tim Cahill.
Carl Valeri, Australia. Valeri will need to cover a lot of ground in midfield against the Ghanaians, especially with his partner Vince Grella missing out thanks to an injury picked up in training this week.
What we can expect:
After witnessing the German thrashing of the Socceroos, the Black Stars have been open about their intent to use their speed on the wings and up front to overwhelm the Australians. There is little evidence that Australia can do much to stop them. This match is likely to become a question of how well Ghana has fine-tuned its final passes and finishing -- a weak link against Serbia.
Australia is missing two key players in Cahill and Grella, and even if they can hold down the Ghanaian attack, it's not at all clear where they'll get the offensive spark with their top marksman out. But the Aussies are as proud a bunch as any, so if Ghana can't finish its chances, there's plenty of room for momentum to turn. The longer the game stays even, the more the Socceroos' confidence will grow.
Things are rough in the Australian camp after their opening day 4-0 thumping at the hands of Germany. There have been reports of internal squabbling and revolt against Verbeek. Add the red-card suspension to Cahill and the injury to Grella, and Australia is a team primed for a knockout.
Ghana is on the other side of the morale spectrum, having pulled out Africa's only win of the first round in its opening game. With things looking bleak for most of Africa's teams, the Black Stars have embraced the challenge of raising the flag for the entire continent and will be buoyed by strong support from whatever crowd shows in Rustenburg. But no opponent is to be taken for granted at the World Cup, and the Ghanaians look to be doing just that with Australia. It could well be their undoing.
Ghana 3, Australia 1. As Serbia's win proved, luck can change quickly at a World Cup. But all signs point to another victory for the Black Stars -- the second for Ghana, and Africa, at the World Cup.
Brent Latham covers soccer for ESPN.com. He previously covered sports throughout Africa for Voice of America radio and now works as a soccer commentator for a national television station in Guatemala. He can be reached at email@example.com.