Here is an introduction to the four teams in Group D, with their FIFA rankings in parentheses.
Germany is the class of Group D, but anything could happen in the other clashes.
Germany is a model of consistency in the World Cup. Going back to 1966, the Germans have advanced to the semi-finals eight of eleven times and to the final six times. For this year's World Cup, they made it through their qualifying group undefeated, most notably beating Russia twice, clinching the first-place spot with a victory in Moscow on a first-half goal by Miroslav Klose.
In March they lost a friendly in Munich to Argentina 1-0, and although it was only a friendly, the Germans did not look solid, particularly in goal. Still, with veterans Klose (the top scorer at the 2006 World Cup), Lukas Podolski and Bastien Schweinsteiger, the Germans will be intimidating opponents for anyone they face.
Unfortunately, Michael Ballack, the captain of the German national team, will miss this year's tournament because of an ankle injury sustained when he was tackled by Ghana midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng during the FA Cup final. Although Boateng eventually apologized, the match between Germany and Ghana on June 23 should be "interesting."
German teams have faced Serbian (or Yugoslav) team six times already in World Cup play. Germany won four of those encounters, tied once and lost once (in 1962).
For a while, I thought Serbia could be the dark horse of the tournament. Four years ago they arrived at the 2006 World Cup with high hopes, having won their qualifying group ahead of Spain and without a loss. But instead, they lost all three of their matches, including a humiliating 6-0 shellacking at the hands of Argentina and a final 3-2 loss to Côte d'Ivoire after they had led 2-0.
This time the Serbs won their group again, finishing ahead of France and with one match to spare. Tuning up for the 2010 World Cup, they gained road victories over fellow qualifiers South Korea, Algeria and Japan. But then, on May 29, they lost 1-0 to New Zealand, possibly the weakest team in the World Cup. They followed this with a scoreless draw against Poland, and the situation is looking precarious for the Serbs, although they did mange a 4-3 victory over Cameroon on June 5. Seven members of Serbia's starting lineup play in either England or Italy, and they are a seasoned squad. With memories of their collapse at the last World Cup all too clear, they will be desperate to avoid falling apart again.
Australia was the pleasant surprise of the 2006 World Cup. They qualified by winning a penalty shoot-out against Uruguay and went to Germany with expectations well under control. They defeated Japan 3-1, lost to Brazil 2-0, and then faced Croatia, needing only a draw to advance. Croatia led 2-1, when Harry Kewell scored for Australia in the 79th minute. Then the atmosphere turned ugly. Before the match was over, two Croatians and one Australian had been sent off with their second yellow cards. Australia held on and qualified for a round of 16 match-up with Italy.
Surprisingly, the Australians, playing courageously, held the heavily favored Italians to a scoreless draw...until the third minute of second half injury time. That's when the referee called a controversial penalty against Lucas Neill for having Fabio Grosso trip over him in the box. Francesco Totti converted the penalty and Australia was out.
Australia switched from the incredibly weak Oceania region to the Asian region in time for the qualification tournaments for the current World Cup. They placed first in their first round group despite losses to Iraq and, at home, to China, and advanced to the final round. With the first and second place teams in a group of five qualifying for the World Cup, the Australians, somewhat surprisingly, dominated the group, going undefeated and not even conceding a goal until their final match against Japan, by which time they had already qualified.
In the weeks before the World Cup, the Australians have tuned up with victories over New Zealand and Denmark, before losing to the United States 3-1 on June 5.
Ghana didn't make its first World Cup appearance until 2006. After losing to Italy, they defeated the Czech Republic and the United States and moved on to the round of 16, where they were overwhelmed by Brazil 3-0.
This time around they struggled in the first round of African qualifying, winning their group of four despite losing twice and tying in points with Gabon and Libya. In the final round, the Ghanaians had an easier time, winning four quick shutouts and qualifying with two matches to spare. In January, Ghana placed second in the Africa Cup of Nations, defeating Nigeria in the semi-finals before losing 1-0 to Egypt in the final. In group play they had been beaten 3-1 by Côte d-Ivoire.
Ghana should have been led by midfielder Michael Essien, who plays for Chelsea, but Essien had to withdraw because of injury.
Favorites: Germany should be a shoo-in, but the second place is really up for grabs.
To view a guide to all the groups, see here.
David Wallechinsky is the author of The Complete Book of the Summer Olympics and The Complete Book of the Winter Olympics. He is the vice-president of the International Society of Olympic Historians.