Group D: Serbia
Talented players, balanced attack, tactical flexibility: beating Serbia will require a good team - or their own self-destruction...
This is a gifted Serbia side, but the question, as ever, will be whether they can hold it together over the six-week span of a major tournament.
Four years ago Serbia-Montenegro Ã¢ÂÂ as it technically still was - went to Germany with high hopes having conceded a single goal in 10 qualifying games. But Savo Milosevic got involved in a spat between Mateja Kezman and Nemanja Vidic, then Vidic hurt his back, and coach Ilija Petkovic Ã¢ÂÂ already under pressure for alleged nepotism having tried to called up his son as a late replacement for the injured Mirko Vucinic Ã¢ÂÂ mystifyingly changed tactics. They shipped 10 goals in three games, including six to Argentina.
This time, coach Raddy Antic insists the leopard has changed its spots. Ã¢ÂÂWeÃ¢ÂÂve created a really positive atmosphere and our confidence is high,Ã¢ÂÂ he says. Ã¢ÂÂWeÃ¢ÂÂve genuinely turned into a big family, and thatÃ¢ÂÂs definitely the biggest success.Ã¢ÂÂ He must take credit for that, having made conscious efforts to create a sense of togetherness.
The friendly against Bulgaria last November, for instance, was designated as a farewell game for Milosevic, even though he hadnÃ¢ÂÂt played international football since the last World Cup. The former Aston Villa forward wandered about for 35 minutes, during which time he scored twice and missed two penalties, Serbia went on to win 6-1, and everybody shared a warm glow from celebrating the career of a fine servant of Serbian football.
Encouragingly, when the pressure was on at the end of the qualifiers and they needed a home win against Romania to secure top spot in the group Ã¢ÂÂ just the sort of game in which past sides might have faltered Ã¢ÂÂ they were superb, and won 5-1. Ã¢ÂÂMy ambitions,Ã¢ÂÂ Antic says, Ã¢ÂÂare much bigger than just qualification.Ã¢ÂÂ
This is an extremely well-balanced, tactically flexible side. They have the brute power of Birmingham new boy Nikola Zigic as a leader of the line, supported by a technically gifted midfield, with Milos Krasic providing pace and width on the right and Milan Jovanovic a more cerebral, less explosive option on the left.
Inter's Dejan Stankovic and Wolves' Nenad Milijas offer a creator and a destroyer in the centre of midfield, and they can be supplemented by an additional holder such as Gojko Kacar if Antic opts to play with a lone striker.
There are major doubts over goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic: a Wigan loanee last season, he has played fewer than two dozen league games in the last three years. There are also minor doubts about whether Marko Pantelic is good enough as a support striker Ã¢ÂÂ which may persuade Antic to go in with a 4-2-3-1.
This will be Dejan StankovicÃ¢ÂÂs third World Cup for a third different country (Yugoslavia in 1998, Serbia-Montengro in 2006 and Serbia this time).
The Coach: Raddy Antic
In England he is still best remembered as the curly-haired figure who scored a late winner at Manchester City in 1983 to keep Luton up and prompt David PleatÃ¢ÂÂs famous jig across the Maine Road pitch, but he has an impressive managerial record in Spain, where he coached both Barcelona and Real Madrid and led Atletico Madrid to the double in 1995-96.
Key Player: Milos Krasic
Quick and skilful, Krasic has caught the eye for CSKA Moscow in the Champions League this season, and gives Serbia a cutting edge.
Probable Team (4-4-2): Stojkovic; Ivanovic, Vidic, Lukovic, Dragutinovic; Krasic, Milijas, Stankovic, Jovanovic; Pantelic, Zigic
Ghana, June 13, 3pm, Tshwane/Pretoria
Germany, June 18, 12.30pm, Nelson Mandela Bay
Australia, June 23, 7.30pm, Nelspruit
Qualified Top of UEFA Group 7
Faroe Islands (H) 2-0
France (A) 1-2
Lithuania (H) 3-0
Austria (A) 3-1
Romania (A) 3-2
Austria (H) 1-0
Faroe Islands (A) 2-0
France (H) 1-1
Romania (H) 5-0
Lithuania (A) 1-2
World Cup record
South Africa 2010 is their first World Cup finals