Pre-tournament dark horse Serbia has failed to impress thus far, but having played their two more difficult matches of group, they have a chance to make a new first impression today against Australia. A win gets the Serbs into the knockout stage with a chance to move through top of Group F.
Australia's route to the knockout stage is more complicated, but at least they have one. After losing 4-0 to Germany and seeing their best player red carded in their tournament opener, the Socceroos were thought dead, but a 1-1 draw with Ghana keeps them alive with a clear route to the final sixteen: Win and hope Ghana beats Germany.
Australia can also get through if Ghana draws, but it's a more complicated scenario that still involves the Socceroos beating the Serbs. And given Australia has yet to register a win in the tournament, Pim Verbeek and the men of Oz need to concentrate on their own business first.
Serbia, Going Forward: The Serbs have been sputtering going forward in this World Cup, unable to generate anything meaningful in their loss to Ghana and only scoring against Germany once up a man. However, in comparing those two results you see the key to Serbia's attack, as evidenced on the goal they generated against Germany.
Ghana's wing play neutralized the effects of Milan Jovanovic and Milos Krasic, but the shock of Germany going down a man left an opening for Milos Krasic to create down the right side, find 6'8" Nicola Zigic at the far post, who then headed down for an easy Milan Jovanovic finish. Once Germany got their bearings, they were able to contain Serbia's wing play, but before they did, you saw the formula the Serbs will follow in trying to get through this tournament.
Fortunately for the Serbs, Australia offer relatively little on the wings to contain Serbia. The question is whether the holes in the middle will open up once Serbia gets past the line. Australia is not fleet-of-foot but they are well organized and they play with two defensive midfielders who will be able to fill the gaps created. Serbia will likely have to make many runs at the Socceroos defense and hope the defense eventually breaks-out.
Australia, Going Forward: Here's the big mystery, because all throughout qualifying Pim Verbeek has used a big-man, little-man combination of Joshua Kennedy and Tim Cahill in attack. The 6'6" Kennedy combined with the aerial prowess of Cahill provided a effective if predictable means of attacking. But to date in this tournament, Kennedy has yet to start, with Verbeek sending out consecutive, conservative lineups: 4-5-1s with (essentially) attacking midfielders in the striker role, set-up to hold-out and counter.
Having to chase not only a win but a reversal of their -4 goal difference, you would think Australia would put out an attacking formation. Then again, Verbeek may put out the same, conservative 4-5-1, reasoning that's his best way to win, and hope that Ghana beats Germany.
If he goes in that direction, Australia will be mostly a counter-attacking team, but with Tim Cahill set to return from a one match suspension, Verbeek will be able to incorporate some isolated elements of his qualifying approach.
How The Match Turns: To this point, there has been a certain "when will they wake up" element to Serbia. Perhaps this is a the match, as Australia is their easiest opponent to day. Having played two 1-0 matches (and been on both sides of the result), it seems as if the Serbs' World Cup has yet to start.