Serbia, Australia fight to stay in World Cup
Nelspruit: Australia and Serbia have already experienced the highs and lows of this World Cup ahead of their decisive Group D encounter.
Australia suffered a red card in each of its opening matches, while Serbia conceded penalties in both of its games.
But on the positive side, Serbia bounced back from an opening defeat against Ghana to beat Germany, while Australia`s 4-0 thrashing at the hands of the Germans was followed by a battling 1-1 draw with ten men against Ghana.
After those ups and downs, both sides are left in the position of knowing defeat in tomorrow`s match at Nelspruit`s Mbombela stadium could equal an early flight home.
Australia needs to win and also rely on a favourable result in the simultaneous Ghana-Germany game to reach the round of 16. If Australia and Ghana both win, Australia is through. If Germany wins, Australia must beat Serbia and hope its goal difference is boosted and Ghana`s reduced by a sum of five goals. A Germany-Ghana draw would leave Australia having to win by seven goals.
For Serbia, a win guarantees progression, while a draw would also do the job provided Ghana wins.
Not much separates the two sides according to FIFA`s rankings; Serbia is in 15th spot, with the Australians five places further back.
Australia`s preparation has been hampered by suspensions to two key players. Forward Harry Kewell will miss out after his red card against Ghana and experienced defender Craig Moore is sidelined after picking up two yellow cards.
"They still have good players in the reserves, but these two are big players for them," Serbia captain Dejan Stankovic said. "We will try to use that to our advantage."
The brighter news for Australia is that attacking midfielder Tim Cahill is available after serving a one-match ban for his red card against the Germans.
Cahill averages a goal every second game for the Socceroos and his ability to arrive late in the box from midfield is among the national team`s principal weapons.
Australia coach Pim Verbeek was pilloried for playing Cahill up front against the Germans - an experiment that probably won`t be repeated, with tall striker Josh Kennedy likely to start.
"This week I have kept myself really fresh and sharp and made sure that the management can see that I`m edging to still be in selection and make sure that I try and start," Cahill said.
At the back, Moore`s likely replacement is Michael Beauchamp, who stands 1.91 meters (6 feet 3 inches) tall and could be a useful attribute to counter Serbia`s 2.02m (6 feet 7 inch) Nikola Zigic.