JOHANNESBURG: Germany`s status as an early World Cup favourite slumped on Friday as they lost to Serbia, missing a penalty that could have saved them and joining a retreat of Europe`s big soccer powers.
The Germans` shock 1-0 defeat, which revives Serbia`s chances of qualifying for the second round, followed the humiliation of France who look set for an early exit after falling to Mexico.
The results follow a pattern in which fancied European sides, including pre-tournament favourites Spain, have failed while Latin America -- led by Diego Maradona`s Argentina -- are on the charge.
No European side has won a World Cup outside their continent.
The young German team`s 4-0 drubbing of Australia in their first match had made them one of the favourites, but they fell apart late in the first half when Miroslav Klose was sent off for two yellow cards and Serbia immediately exploited their advantage, scoring through Milan Jovanovic.
The solid Serbian defence consistently foiled increasingly desperate German assaults and goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic saved a badly-taken spot kick by Lukas Podolski in the 61st minute as the slow starting tournament took off.
Germany, however, still lead Group D with three points from two games ahead of Ghana -- yet to play their second game -- and Serbia, also both on three.
The French press tore the 1998 world champions and 2006 runners-up apart after their 2-0 defeat by Mexico on Thursday night, denouncing them as imposters, disgraceful and pathetic.
FRANCE ON BRINK
Following an uninspired 0-0 draw with Uruguay in their first game, France are on the brink of elimination.
Irish eyes may well be smiling at that prospect, since France only qualified for the finals by beating them through Thierry Henry`s infamous handball.
Dejected French captain Patrice Evra described their performance as a catastrophe, adding: "We feel like a small footballing nation and it hurts."
In the evening match, England will want to beat Algeria in order to erase the memory of one of the World Cup`s worst goalkeeping mistakes by Robert Green against the United States in their first match, which ended 1-1.
Green`s fumble goes down as one of the tournament`s most farcical moments and leaves the inventors of football under pressure in what had looked an easy group.
England`s marquee striker Wayne Rooney has not scored an international goal since last September and probable partner Emile Heskey has only hit the net seven times in 59 games.
Algeria would love to be the first African side to beat the English and can ill afford a second defeat after going down 1-0 to Slovenia in their first game.
In Friday`s other match, the U.S. are favourites against group-topping Slovenia.
Algeria`s weak prospects will increase African misery at the continent`s poor performance in their first edition of the tournament.
Ghana are the only one of six African teams to have won a match and hosts South Africa look unlikely to reach the second round after garnering just one point in two games.
With Germany`s fangs pulled by Serbia, Argentina look even more impressive.
Confounding criticism that the maverick coach and former great Maradona would be more hindrance than help to his talented side, Argentina thrashed South Korea 4-1 on Thursday. Gonzalo Higuain`s hat-trick capped a superb team performance.
South Africa`s 3-0 defeat to Uruguay on Wednesday deflated a nation whipped into a frenzy over the Bafana Bafana team`s prospects on top of the sheer joy of hosting the World Cup in a country once ostracised because of apartheid.
They are now on the brink of being the first host nation eliminated in the first round if they cannot beat France in their last game in Group A.
Local officials urged South African fans to stick with the tournament even if the local side are knocked out--to avoid FIFA`s nightmare of empty stadium seats.
BDST: 1934hrs, June 18, 2010