Group D’s opener was a highly engaging encounter between two teams of contrasting styles, perfectly showcasing what the World Cup is all about. The game sprung into life early on, as within the first two minutes decent long-range efforts from Serbian forward Marko Pantelic and Ghanaian full-back Hans Sarpei signalled the attacking intent of both sides. The pace of Asamoah Gyan and Prince Tagoe was causing the Serbian defences problems from the outset, while giant striker Nicola Zigic dwarfed the Ghanaian backline and was winning most aerial balls early on.
Zigic also chipped in at the defensive end, with his block of Asamoah’s fierce drive towards goal preventing what could have been a real chance. A few minutes later, and Kevin-Prince Boateng’s trickery and fantastic cross nearly reached the head of Gyan, as Ghana continued to attack impressively in the early stages.
Serbia’s best chance of the first half came through left-back Kolarov, who clipped a 30 yard free-kick only narrowly wide of the top corner. The first half was played at a frenetic pace from start to end, with Ghana in particular moving the ball forward as quickly as possible. Their midfield also worked tirelessly to reduce the time and space available to Serbia’s highly gifted midfield four. A highly entertaining half ended 0-0 but promised that more excitement was to come.
The first chance of the second half was created by the brilliance of one of the game’s best players. A swift Ghana move reached Tagoe out on the right, and he floated his cross perfectly over Nemanja Vidic and found winger Andre Ayew all alone at the far post. Ayew headed disappointingly into the side netting when he really should have gone back across the ‘keeper.
Serbia struggled to match Ghana’s pace, but still had the quality to create chances; a great cross from Marko Pantelic reaching Nikola Zigic at the far post, but his sidefoot shot was poor and came to nothing. Sooner after, Ghana created their best chance of the game so far. A long throw from John Paintsil was met by a towering leap from Gyan, whose header looked to be going in at the near post until it took a strange bounce and caught the outside of the Serbian upright.
The game continued to switch from end to end with both sides searching for that elusive first goal, but the game saw its first red card before its first goal. Serbia centre-back Aleksandar Lukovic pulled back Gyan as he turned to chase a through ball, and the referee was left with little choice but to show Lukovic his second yellow. It was a needless foul with Nemanja Vidic covering directly behind him, but the defender made his choice and was rightly dismissed.
Strangely enough, Lukovic’s sending off seemed to stun Serbia into action, with their best chances of the game coming soon after. Substitute Danko Lazovic broke free down Serbia’s left to cross from the touchline. His pull-back was missed by Pantelic, but the approaching Milos Krasic smashed a fine effort at goal that was well tipped over by Kingson. The resultant corner reached the head of Vidic whose powerful header flew narrowly over the Ghana crossbar.
The pressure continued, with Branislav Ivanovic advancing into the Ghana half and striking a superb effort which was only inches over. After three great chances in quick succession, it seemed the ten men of Serbia may well pull off a smash-and-grab victory over a Ghana team who had been the better side throughout. Then the game was turned on its head once more.
A high cross was angled from Ghana’s left into the Serbian penalty box, and substitute Zdravko Kuzmanovic’s outstretched arm knocked the ball away from the approaching Kevin-Prince Boateng, with a penalty rightly awarded. It was an inexplicable decision from Kuzmanovic who was never going to be able to disguise his actions.
Asamoah Gyan coolly dispatched the penalty, sending Serbian ‘keeper Stojkovic the wrong way and giving Ghana the lead. Over the course of the game it was no less than Ghana deserved, but Serbia will be sick about how it came about, particularly as it came immediately after their best spell of the game.
There was still time for Gyan to hit the inside of the post in injury time, opening his body up to curl a sweet curling shot that left Stojkovic with no chance before it bounced agonisingly against the post and out to safety. With a little more luck, Gyan, who hit the same post twice in the second half, could have had a hat-trick, and Germany and Australia’s defences would do well to take note of the striker’s qualities.
Ghana are now well placed to qualify, with a highly winnable tie against Australia next up for the Black Stars. For Serbia, it looks like a tall task to make it out of the group, and they will need a huge improvement if they are to challenge Germany in their next fixture.
Man of the Match: Prince Tagoe. The tall winger in the bright yellow boots was a constant threat for the Ghanaians. His pace, dribbling and crossing ability caused constant problems to Kolarov, who is a highly competent full-back.
Moment of the Match: The winning goal. Gyan’s penalty was straightforward enough, but the celebrations that followed were intense, sending the colourful Ghanaian supporters into rapture. The 1-0 victory secures Ghana’s place as the first African team to win at an African World Cup.