Groups C and D conclude play on Wednesday, and with each group having only a three point range from first to fourth place, no teams are eliminated, with three teams in each packet still capable of winning the group. In Group C, Slovenia, the smallest nation in the draw, leads by two points over the United States and England, while Ghana at the top of Group D remains Africa's hope for a knockout stage qualifier.
But Wednesday's focus will be the early match in Pretoria, where the United States can qualify for the knockout stage with a win over Algeria.
That match, and the rest of Wednesday's games in the 2010 World Cup:
United States versus Algeria, Pretoria, 10:00 a.m. Eastern, ESPN
Where They Stand: The United States may have only two points through two matches, but in Group C, that is enough to control your own destiny.
With two draws, the United States sits in second place. If they beat Algeria, they go through to the next round and have a chance to claim the group's top seed. Even with a draw, the U.S. could advance, should they get help from the Slovenia-England match.
A Slovenia win means the U.S. could get through on three points, while a draw between the Slovenes and English would put the U.S. through on three as long as they have more goals scored than the Three Lions (or, have as many goals scored and win the draw of lots - yeah, we're that close to that solution).
Algeria is only one point behind the U.S. but have no control of their own destiny. The Desert Foxes could beat the United States, get to four points, and still miss the knockout stage. That scenario only comes into play if Algeria wins by one goal. If they win by two, they go through in second place. If they draw or lose, Algeria's out.
Player To Watch, United States: With Algeria likely to overload the midfield - playing six or seven midfielders in front of a three-man back line - the United States' central midfielders will need to have strong matches: breaking-up play as well as making strong decisions with the ball. With the possible exception of Karim Ziani, Michael Bradley will be the most talented played in the middle of the pitch. The United States goes a long way toward avoiding an upset if Bradley can offset Algeria's midfield advantage.
Player To Watch, Algeria: We saw a strong Slovenia defense wilt under the pressure of United States in Friday's second half. Though Algeria's midfield will keep the States from hitting the back line with the same head of steam they had against Slovenia, Rafik Halliche, playing in the center of the Foxes' three man line, must have a good match, be it managing the U.S.'s attacks through the middle, covering when Mahjid Bougherra and Antar Yahia need help, or being in the proper position when Landon Donovan is in possession on the right wing.
Prediction: The same way Algeria was able to control their match with England, they should be able to manage the United States. But against both England and Slovenia, the U.S. has been able to get goals when they've needed them. In the preceding two matches, the U.S. only needed to avoid losses. On Wednesday, the States needs a win to advance, so a late goal in a United States 2, Algeria 1 final would fit the pattern.
England versus Slovenia, Port Elizabeth, 10:00 a.m. Eastern, ESPN2
Where They Stand: Slovenia leads Group C with four very fortunate points. In their opener against Algeria, a 1-0 win, a late howler from Faouzi Chaouchi gave Robert Koren a goal and Slovenia a win. Versus the United States, some luck with a late-match whistle kept a third U.S. goal off the scoresheet and preserved a 2-2 draw.
Luck or not, the four points mean Slovenia could lose to England and still make the knockout round. If the United States and Algeria draw, Slovenia's through. If Algeria wins, Slovenia could still advance with a loss, but with any points against England, the Slovenes advance regardless of the U.S.-Algeria result.
With a win over England, Slovenia wins the group. With a draw, they also win the group unless the U.S. beats Algeria and wins the tiebreakers.
England could finish anywhere from first to fourth in the group. If they beat Slovenia, England could win Group C if the United States does not win or if the U.S. wins and England beat them on tiebreakers. England could go through in second place with a high scoring draw, making up for the two goals England trails the States in goals scored, provided the U.S. and Algeria draw.
The there is a winner in the U.S.-Algeria match, England must beat Slovenia to advance.
Player To Watch, Slovenia: When Matthew Upson takes the pitch along side John Terry, England will be starting their fourth different center half of the tournament. Striker Milivoje Novakovic will be the Slovene tasked with testing him and Terry. Normally good for a goal every two games for both club and country, the 6'3" Koln-man has been kept off the scoresheet through two matches. England likely needs to preserve that trend if they're to win on Wednesday.
Player To Watch, England: Surprisingly, given qualifying results and the team's concerns heading into the tournament, it's been goal scoring, not prevention, that's been England's problem. Star forward Wayne Rooney has had a shocking tournament through two matches, and when you look through the team Fabio Capello's likely to start, there are few people beyond Rooney who can reasonably be expected to score goals. His star was the reason so many England supporters thought their team a contender to win this tournament, but on Wednesday, Rooney will have to focus on much more modest goals.
Prediction: Within the context of this tournament, there is little reason to pick England over Slovenia, but two matches could be seen as a small sample size. England was a dominant team in qualifying, posting strong results against teams as capable as Slovenia. Qualifying seems like a long time ago, but England does not need to be as good as they were when they blew out Croatia twice. They only need to recapture enough of their magic to get an England 2, Slovenia 1 result, and although this team has seemed paralyzed by the pressure they're under, look for the more talented team that has played better over the preceding two years to get three must-have points.
Germany versus Ghana, Johannesburg (Soccer City), 2:30 p.m. Eastern, ESPN
Where They Stand: Ghana leads Group D with four points and is in a place similar to Slovenia. They finish on top of Group D with a win. They can also win the group with a draw provided Serbia does not beat Australia, and they can still advance with a loss if Australia beats Serbia and fails to make up a five goal margin in goal difference.
Germany is in second place with three points after their surprise loss to Serbia. With a win, the Germans likely finish first in the group thanks to their goal difference advantage over the Serbs. With a draw, Germany can finish no higher than second and misses out on the knockout stage if Serbia beats Australia. However, if Serbia-Australia draw or Australia wins, Germany could go through on goal difference.
A Germany loss, and they're out.
Player To Watch, Ghana: Jerome-Prince Boateng played for Germany at youth levels and obtained permission to play for Ghana shortly before the tournament started. The holding midfielder make an impact before the tournament began, injuring Michael Ballack in the FA Cup final, putting the German captain out for the tournament.
In South Africa, Boeteng has shared the Black Star defensive midfield with Anthony Annan. In front of a back pair that has had to deal with injuries to John Mensah and Isaac Vorsah, Boateng's breaking-up Germany's attack will be vital if Ghana is to slow down their opponents down and protect their defense.
Player To Watch, Germany: Right wing Thomas Müller gets overlooked as a player that does nothing great but does everything well. For a Germany attack that is most effective when going wide and playing in from the wing, Müller's passing from the right is an important element, allowing the team to go down his side and use opposite winger Lukas Podolski as more of a goal scoring threat. Matched-up against Bayer Leverkusen's Hans Sarpei, Müller can be counted on to provide the final ball against Ghana.
Prediction: Ghana is on four points, but they have not been that good in this tournament. They haven't scored from open play and failed to get three points from a wounded and weakened Australia team. Against a Germany team that was barely slowed down by their numerical disadvantage against Serbia, Ghana is unlikely to maintain their place atop Group D. Germany 3, Ghana 1 will give Germany the group and likely puts Ghana out of the competition.
Serbia versus Australia, Nelspruit, 2:30 p.m. Eastern, ESPN2
Where They Stand: Serbia is in third place but advances with a win. With a draw, they could conceivably win tiebreakers against Germany (if the Germans draw with Ghana) or, more likely, Ghana (if the Black Stars lose to Germany). A loss, and Serbia's out.
Australia needs to win to have a chance, but sitting on a -4 goal difference, they are unlikely to go through. If they win, they will finished tied on points with either Ghana or Germany. Ghana may have more points than Germany, but their +1 goal difference is more accessible to the Socceroos.
Player To Watch, Serbia: Serbia has only one goal through two matches, scored while up a man against Germany. The goal came from Milan Jovanovic, Serbia's leading scorer in qualifying who will also be Serbia's best-bet to get on the scoresheet against Australia. The Socceroos are have size and strength but not necessarily speed, and Jovanovic's quickness on the left wing should give the Aussies troubles. It's unclear who Pim Verbeek uses to try and slow down Jovanovic.
Player To Watch, Australia: Tim Cahill returns for Australia today, having served his one match suspension for the red card incurred against Germany. He will attack a Serbia central defense that has had some nervous moments in the first two matches, including Nemanja Vidic giving-up a penalty kick to Germany while up a man. Strong defending on the wings from Jovanovic and Milos Krasic could help keep Cahill from getting service. Regardless, the Serbia back line, while allowing only one goal through two matches, will have to be more steady against Cahill and Australia.
Prediction: Australia's had a player dismissed in each of their first two matches, so it's difficult to discern what they're capable of doing with eleven men (assuming they don't have a player sent off against Serbia). The Ghana match, however, was instructive as it concerns Serbia, as both teams have become dependent on building their attacks down the wings. Down a man for most of the match, Australia dealt reasonably well with Ghana, and with Serbia showing little attacking accumen in their first two matches, we could see a Serbia 1, Australia 1 result that would send Serbia into the knockout stage on goal difference over Ghana.