Preview: Germany vs. Serbia
After producing the best performance in the first phase of World Cup group matches with its emphatic 4-0 win over Australia, Germany is being extra wary of Serbia.
"It's (Serbia's) last chance to stay in the tournament and we'll have to be very careful and concentrated," Germany assistant coach Hansi Flick said of Friday's match. "Australia was no measuring stick and Serbia is a very good team, with players in top clubs in Europe. We'll have to improve what we did well against Australia."
And so the Serbians face a double dilemma in the Group D match: the Balkan team is coming off a mediocre performance in losing 1-0 to Ghana, while Germany was at its clinical best against Australia to boost its claims to the title. Another loss will almost certainly end Serbia's chances of progressing.
Serbia coach Radomir Antic said his squad had lost some confidence in its opening match, but was capable of rebounding against the Germans.
"We are facing the team that has shown the best football so far, in my opinion. I was impressed with their game," Antic said Wednesday. "We know we have to rise to the occasion. That's the trademark of real champions."
Serbia's only claim to a win over Germany at the World Cup came when the country was part of Yugoslavia, which beat West Germany in the 1962 quarterfinals in Chile.
"This upcoming match is really a historic match for us," Antic said. "But Germany should also inspire us to regain the passion and joy in our game. We were too tight against Ghana, we failed mentally. All our players have to raise their level."
The teams were scheduled to have a training session Thursday at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, but FIFA told both sides Wednesday that heavy rain over the past two days had damaged the pitch too much for practice at the venue.
The German squad has decided to delay its trip. The players will have their final training session near their base outside Pretoria before flying to Port Elizabeth on Thursday afternoon instead of at noon as initially planned.
Serbian striker Milan Jovanovic, who is set to join Liverpool from Standard Liege, said the loss to Ghana "affected our mood" and that Germany's big win over Australia didn't help.
"They have been the best team so far," Jovanovic said. "To beat them, we'll have to raise above ourselves. We don't want to ruin what we've done after only two games at the World Cup. We'll have to be more courageous."
Serbia midfielder Gojko Kacar took a more optimistic tone, saying he feels his team can compete with Germany.
"No team is here just to make up the numbers. Look at how Brazil struggled against (North) Korea," Kacar said of five-time champion Brazil's 2-1 win over the little-known team from the reclusive communist nation. "So anything can happen."
Germany has been working on ways to isolate tall Serbia striker Nikola Zigic and prevent him from distributing the ball to teammates. The 2.03-meter (6-foot-8) Zigic uses his height to head long balls into the path of his teammates.
Midfielder Sami Khedira said the German team had been closely scrutinizing this aspect of Serbia's game.
"We will have to win those balls laid on by Zigic," Khedira said.
Midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger has missed two of the those practice sessions because of a cold, but should be fit to play on Friday.
Flick said Schweinsteiger is getting better and although he sat out Wednesday's team practice, he did do work on his own.
Germany is taking every precaution to try and ensure other members of the squad don't get sick after the sudden drop in temperature this week and the arrival of wintery conditions.
Flick said Germany's players have been told to dress warmly and even to blow-dry their hair after showers - and "to listen to their mothers' advice."