The Black Stars of Ghana went down 1-0 to Germany after a blistering long-range strike from Mesut Ozil, but still managed to follow Germany into the last 16.
Ghana knew that a win would guarantee top spot in the group and a draw would guarantee qualification, while a defeat would leave them relying on a favourable result in the match between Serbia and Australia. Germany were always likely to provide a stern test, particularly as they needed a result after losing 1-0 to Serbia in their previous game.
The return of captain John Mensah was a huge boost; the defensive lynchpin partnered namesake Jonathan Mensah in central defence with Isaac Vorsah still absent. The Ghanaian defence would need to be at their best to cope with the threat of talented young trio Ozil, Lukas Podolski and Thomas Muller, as well as Cacau, in for the suspended Miroslav Klose.
Influential captain John Mensah returned to the Ghana side
The only other change for either side was Germany’s selection of Jerome Boateng, who made history alongside his brother, Ghana international Kevin-Prince Boateng, as they became the first siblings to face each other in the World Cup Finals.
The game began at quite a pace, with both teams seemingly intent on grabbing the first goal that would mean so much to their qualification hopes. Ghana were impressive going forward, but it was Germany who had the first chance, with Cacau firing from wide on the right and forcing Ghana keeper Richard Kingson into his first save.
Soon after the Germans had another chance, as Podolski’s left wing cross was deflected towards his own goal by Jonathan Mensah, forcing Kingson into a fine reaction save. At the other end, Ghana’s main attacking threat was again Asamoah Gyan, scorer of both of Ghana’s goals in the first two games.
It was Gyan who had Ghana’s best chances of the first half, the first coming when Andre Ayew received the ball just inside the box and cut it back to Gyan, but his close range shot was blocked when he looked set to score. He went close again when Kwadwo Asamoah broke down the left and swung a ball across the box, with only the outstretched boot of Per Metersacker preventing Gyan from getting on the end of it.
Just as it seemed Ghana were becoming dominant, Germany broke well and Ozil had a guilt edged chance, after being put clean through by a great through ball from Cacau. With the goal seemingly at his mercy, he opened his body up and looked set to side-foot home, but the onrushing Kingson produced another fine save to keep the scores level.
Next up came the game’s most controversial moment, as a Ghanaian corner was flicked on at the near post by a header from Gyan, beating German ‘keeper Manuel Neuer, but being cleared off the line by captain Lahm. While it initially looked like a fantastic piece of defending, replays showed that Lahm used his arm to control the ball before clearing, and had the referee seen it, he would surely have awarded Ghana their third penalty in as many games, as well as showing Lahm a red card.
The officials’ oversight was a huge let off for the Germans, who then went on to have a number of decent chances before half-time; first when Khedira’s near post backheel set up Cacau, who fired a decent snapshot just wide of the near post, then a header from Khedira that flew narrowly over, and finally a free-kick from Schweinsteiger that evaded everyone on its way through the box before it was well saved at the far post by the impressive Kingson.
Ghana had another good chance before the break after a fantastic exchange of passes between Boateng and Ayew. From central midfield, Boateng spread a pinpoint pass out wide to Ayew, who controlled perfectly, cut inside the defender, and crossed left footed for the onrushing Boateng to head at goal. Unfortunately for Ghana, Boateng didn’t get quite enough on the header and the ball glanced across goal, and soon after, the pulsating first 45 minutes came to an end with the game somehow still goalless.
The first half had everything but a goal; exciting end to end play, good chances for each side, controversial decisions, theatrical falls and heavy challenges. Ghana’s main attacking threat was Ayew, who switched to play on the right for much of this game and was a constant threat, cutting onto his left seemingly at will and swinging several dangerous crosses into the German box.
Ghana had the first chance of the second half a few minutes in, as Gyan flicked on to Kwadwo Asamoah, who found himself all alone on his favoured left foot, but smashed straight at Neuer from just inside the box. This missed chance added to a collection of first-half misses from Ghana, and ten minutes later they were made to pay dearly.
For the first time in the half, Muller found space on the Germany right, carried it towards the edge of the box and played it inside to Ozil, who took it on his magical left foot and smashed in a wonderful strike from 20 yards. It was a breathtaking goal from the young star, showcasing his massive talent and giving Germany a precious lead.
Young star Mesut Ozil scored a stunning winner for the Germans
The Germans were now in control of the game, and with it, top spot in the group. They survived a scare immediately after when a header from Prince Tagoe went close, but after that they shut up shot and the game became much less eventf.
At this point, Ghana were still going through ahead of Serbia by virtue of goals scored, but it was a precarious position to be in, knowing that a Serbian goal would put Ghana out. The relief along the Ghanaian bench was palpable when news came through that Australia had scored two quick-fire goals to lead 2-0 with fifteen minutes to go, meaning Ghana weregoing through.
Ghana’s last chance of note came when Gyan backheeled cleverly for Ayew to strike a fine left footed shot which was wonderfully blocked by Lahm and away for a corner. After that chance, there was very little to speak of, with Germany content to hold onto possession and their lead. Ghana faced a nervous few minutes when news came through that Serbia had pulled one goal back; a 2-2 draw for Serbia would mean they leapfrogged Ghana to go through on goals scored.
As Ghana’s game came to a close and finished as a 1-0 defeat, they waited nervously to hear the final result from Nelspruit. When the 2-1 final result came through, Ghana were able to celebrate their second successive qualification for the World Cup second round. They were surely unaware at this point of just how close they’d come to elimination; Serbian forward Marko Pantelic had a goal disallowed and missed an absolute sitter, both in the final few minutes.
With fortune seemingly favouring Ghana, and a winnable second round tie against the USA offering the chance of a winnable quarter-final against Uruguay or South Korea, what price the first ever African World Cup providing a first African side in the World Cup semi-finals?
Ghana: Kingson, Sarpei, Pantsil, John Mensah(c), Jonathan Mensah, Annan, Ayew (Adiya), Boateng, Gyan (Amoah), Tagoe (Muntari), Asamoah
Germany: Neuer, Friedrich, Lahm(c), Mertesacker, Boateng (Janssen), Khedira, Schweinsteiger (Kroos), Ozil, Podolski, Muller (Trochowski), Cacau
Goals: Ozil (null)