Mathematically, Friday's early match is not a must win for Serbia; however, with Ghana playing a Tim Cahill-less Australia on Saturday and Germany having the inside track on their group's other knockout stage spot, Serbia is in the unenviable position of needing a point from a team coming off a 4-0 win.
It's quite a turnaround for the Serbs. Six days ago, they were many's dark horse to make a run in the tournament. With injuries to Germany's Michael Ballack and Ghana's Michael Essien, most picked them to get out of (if not win) the group. But a late Zdravko Kuzmanovic handball gave Ghana a 1-0, Sunday victory, and now the Serbs have to get a result against the Germans else be cast in a position to hope for something miraculous.
Friday in Port Elizabeth, Serbia and Germany kick-off the second round of play in Group D, where the White Eagles' first priority will be slowing down the Nationalmannschaft's attack.
Germany, Going Forward: The Germans offered a welcome reprieve from the tournament's slow start when they beat Australia 4-0 on Sunday, but it's difficult to know whether the performance was German dominance or Australian ineptness. Was the display we saw from 21-year-old midfielder Mesut Özil something we can expect each match, with the playmaker pulling the strings for the three other attackers in Germany's 4-5-1? Or, was he a beneficiary of the Socceroos' defense?
Serbia will offer more resistance than Australia, but the same formula should work. The play will move through Özil, who will try to find the German attackers moving behind the defense, who will then move the ball back toward the middle, finding players exploiting the spaces in the collapsed defense. This is how Germany scored three of their four weekend goals.
Serbia, Going Forward: Serbia's best players attackers - left wing Milovan Jovanovic and right wing Milos Krasic - must improve on the performances they gave against Ghana, but with Germany has full backs capable of containing them, it's unclear whether Serbia can rely on their strength. Holger Badstuber (left back) and Philipp Lahm (right) can be beaten, but Serbia can not rely exclusively upon doing so. Serbia may be left with trying to play-off of Nikola Zigic and Marko Pantelic - targeting the two forwards from the flanks when their wing-play is stifled. With that approach, they can test one of Germany's weaknesses, central defense. Per Mertesacker is reliable for the national team but has had weak moments at Werder Bremen, while partner Arne Friedrich is the stand-in for injured Heiko Westermann. The pair had a moment of uncertainty early in the Australia match but was untested over the rest of the game. Serbia will needs to ask more questions of the duo.
How The Match Turns: Serbia has a defense that can match-up against the Germans, but it is too much to expect Nemanja Vidic, Branislav Ivanovic and Neven Subotic (starting in place of suspended Aleksandar Lukovic) to stop every attack. Serbia is going to have to provide some pressure of their own and, in all likelihood, find multiple goals if they are going to get the three points they need. Unless Serbia's midfield of Dejan Stankovic and Nenad Milijas can promote that pressure, Serbia will be facing elimination.