England and Germany walking tightrope

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JOHANNESBURG, June 23 – England and Germany must win their final group games Wednesday to avoid following fellow former champions France on to the World Cup scrapheap.European minnows Slovenia face England in Port Elizabeth and the other Group C fixture pits the United States against Algeria in Pretoria with the four countries harbouring hopes of making the second round.

England and the United States, pre-tournament favourites to progress from what seemed one of the less demanding mini-leagues, can simplify numerous permutations by winning.

That outcome would take both the Three Lions and the Stars and Stripes to five points with goal difference or goals scored determining who finishes first and faces the Group D runners-up.

But the World Cup form book has proved an unreliable guide so often in South Africa and if Slovenia draw and Algeria win, England and the USA officials will be checking flight timetables for London and New York.

Labelled potential champions following a four-goal demolition of 10-man Australia, Germany came unstuck against Serbia and lost 1-0 with Miroslav Klose sent off and Lukas Podolski having a penalty saved.

Although Ghana are one point ahead of the Germans and Serbians, who confront Australia in Nelspruit, the West Africans may rue being held by the Socceroos despite having a numerical advantage for 65 minutes.

Like Group C, the possibilities are endless and even winless Australia could sneak through if they can get out of the habit of having players sent off after red cards for Tim Cahill and Harry Kewell and overcome Serbia.

Should Algeria and Ghana fail, the spectre of no African presence in the last 16 will loom large with last hope Ivory Coast needing to go on a goal rampage against North Korea Friday to have any hope of pipping Portugal.

If the trio fail, it will be the first time since the World Cup was expanded to 32 teams in 1998 that no African country makes it to the last 16 and a massive blow to the football image of the host continent.

Former African Footballer of the Year winners Abedi Pele of Ghana and George Weah of Liberia spoke of an African team winning the competition for the first time and ending the European and South American stranglehold.

Uruguay, Mexico, Argentina and South Korea qualified for the second round Tuesday after Netherlands and record five-time champions Brazil sealed places last weekend.

A Luis Suarez header gave Group A table toppers Uruguay a 1-0 win in Rustenburg over Mexico, who pipped South Africa for the second qualifying place on goal difference.

Bafana Bafana (The Boys) became the first hosts not to make the second round, but ended on a high in Bloemfontein by defeating crisis-torn France 2-1 via goals from Bongani Khumalo and Katlego Mphela.

France, ridden by problems that came to a head with striker Nicolas Anelka being sent off for an expletive-laden outburst against coach Raymond Domenech, had Yoann Gourcuff sent off between the South African goals.

Greece held Argentina for 77 minutes in Polokwane before goals from Martin Demichelis and substitute Martin Palermo gave the South Americans a 2-0 win, top spot in Group B and a second-round showdown against Mexico.

Uruguay face South Korea, who made the second round for only the second time after trailing and leading Nigeria before settling for a 2-2 Durban draw with Lee Jung-soo and Park Chu-young the Taeguk Warriors marksmen.

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