Two former World Cup winners, England and Germany, are in almost unimaginable positions as they get set to play their final Group games Wednesday at football's premier event in South Africa. VOA Sports Director Parke Brewer is in Johannesburg and reports on how Groups C and D shape up.
The Germans opened this World Cup with a dominating 4-0 win against Australia and observers figured they would have no problem reaching the second round from Group D as one of the top two teams. But then came their shock 1-0 defeat by Serbia.
US midfielder Michael Bradley (R) scors a goal during their Group C first round 2010 World Cup football match at Ellis Park stadium in Johannesburg, 18 Jun 2010
Ghana, the fourth team in Group D, beat Serbia 1-0 in its opening match, but then played to a 1-1 draw against Australia. So Ghana leads the group with four points, Germany and Serbia each have three points and Australia has one.
The last time the Germans lost a group match at the World Cup was back in 1986, as West Germany, but they went on to reach the final, where they lost to Argentina.
Ghana will reach the second round with a win or a draw against Germany, and of the six African teams at this World Cup, was the only one to lead a group after two matches.
German-born midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng no doubt has mixed feelings for this match. He has a German mother and Ghanaian father and played youth football for German national teams. He has dual nationality but it was only last month that FIFA approved his switch to play for Ghana's senior team. He says he has been warmly welcomed.
"I think we have a great, very great spirit in the team, and it's like a big, big family," said Boateng. "I haven't been here for a long time now but I can say I'm a family member and there's a lot of love. So there is a fantastic spirit."
Germany will need to beat Ghana to be assured of advancing. A draw would allow them to advance on a better goal differential if Australia can hold Serbia to a draw.
The Serbs are through with a win and would get through with a draw if Ghana beats Germany. The Australians, under Dutch coach Pim Verbeek have to beat Serbia to have any chance, and even then it might come down to goal difference.
"We all know what we have to do, and that's winning," said Verbeek. "And I have 100% confidence that they will give everything to make the three points."
Group C favorite England finds itself in a similar position to Germany. With only two points from draws against the United States and Algeria, a win Wednesday over first place Slovenia - which has four points - is needed to be assured of advancing.
England players faced harsh criticism from their media and fans after their scoreless draw against Algeria last Friday.
England defender John Terry says they will do all they can to make amends.
"We're obviously still disappointed from the game the other night, but you know we've got one game where we can make or break our tournament," said Terry. "And I've come here to win this tournament. You know I don't want to go home on Wednesday."
Like England, the United States has played to draws in its two matches, but is second behind Slovenia because of more goals scored than England.
U.S. midfielder Landon Donovan, whose goal helped his team rally for an important 2-2 tie against Slovenia, said the Americans are glad they can control their own destiny.
"We know exactly what we need to do You know, there are not too many teams that get to go into the third game knowing that if they win they're in [to the second round]. And so if you told me before the tournament we have one game against Algeria to advance to the next round, we'd take our chances and let's hope we bring everything we have," said Donovan.
The U.S. soccer team would also reach the next round with a tie and an England loss to Slovenia. If both final Group C matches end in draws and the USA maintains its plus-two goals scored advantage over England, the Americans would go through with Slovenia and England would be out.