Durban: The youngest team for decades from traditional football powerhouse Germany meet the grit and experience of Australia on Sunday when the World Cup anoints one of the tournament’s most spectacular new stadiums.
After the thrilling opening of the globe’s most watched sporting spectacle on Friday in Johannesburg, and the magical artistry of Lionel Messi when Argentina beat Nigeria on the second day, Sunday was looking more low key. The other two matches feature Serbia v Ghana and Algeria v Slovenia.
The evening clash at Moses Mabhida stadium alongside the Indian Ocean in tropical Durban was the most eagerly-awaited, with questions over how far three-times previous winners and four times losing finalists Germany can go.
The stadium itself may be one of the highlights of the game, a beautiful structure clad in gleaming white concrete sails and topped by an arch in the Y-shape of South Africa’s flag, which carries a sky-train to the summit for stunning views of the sea.
Durban, hoping to make enough of an impression in the World Cup to be a candidate for Africa’s first Olympics, has also undergone a major redesign of its beachfront boulevards.
Robbed of injured captain Michael Ballack, coach Joachim Loew was to field the youngest German tournament squad for three quarters of a century, with several players lacking substantial international experience.
They face a highly experienced and well-drilled Socceroos team who have midfielder Tim Cahill and attacker Harry Kewell back from injury, plus a compact defence that Loew respects.
Messi’s artistry on Saturday in the 1-0 win over Nigeria delighted maverick manager Diego Maradona, who danced wildly on the touchline in delight. It even brought praise from an unusual quarter, Venezuela’s president, best-known for his socialist politics and love of baseball, than passion for football.
“How well Argentina played today. It could have been five goals. Congratulations Comrade Maradona!” Hugo Chavez said.
Argentina’s success contrasted with a disappointing opening game by perennial rival England, one of the pre-tournament favourites. They were held to a 1-1 draw by a well-organised United States after keeper Robert Green committed a howler to let in an easy shot from Clint Dempsey.
Serbia take on a Ghana team whose chances have been sapped by the loss of powerful midfielder Michael Essien.
The match features a dilemma for Ghana coach Milovan Rajevac who must try to organise the downfall of his homeland. “This is a very, very difficult situation for me but I’m a professional and I will concentrate on the game,” Rajevac said.
In dusty northern Polokwane, one of the smaller World Cup venues, Algeria meet Slovenia in Sunday’s third game.
The North Africans’ coach switched captains for their opening match following a string of poor results and reports of dressing room discontent.
Slovenia are also feeling the tension after a string of bad results in previous big international tournaments. Coach Matjaz Kek yelled at his technical staff before training on Saturday.
Despite England falling well below expectations, and Wayne Rooney failing to show his predatory instincts, they should still qualify given the apparently weaker opposition in Group C from Algeria and Slovenia.
They will be anxious to redeem their reputation.
Green, 29, winning only his 11th England cap, will be haunted for the rest of his career by the mistake when he failed to stop a low 25-metre shot from Dempsey.
It was so simple the gaffe could not be blamed on the unpredictable flight of the much-criticised new ball.
Green’s mistake was all over the front-pages of English newspapers and had fans in despair, but there was sympathy from his opposite number, American goalkeeper Tim Howard, who ironically won man of the match for his own fantastic display.
“I feel terrible for him but goalkeepers need to have broad shoulders,” Howard said.