A late Asamoah Gyan penalty gave Ghana a perfect start to their World Cup campaign at the expense of a disappointing Serbia. Gyan coolly slotted home in the 85th minute after an inexplicable hand ball from Serbian substitute Zdravko Kuzmanovic. The result was richly deserved by the Ghanaians, whose pace and direct approach never allowed the Serbians to settle and leaves Serbia a mountain to climb to reach the knock-out stages.
The match pitted two Serbian coaches together, and it was the Ghana coach Milovan Rajevec who won the tactical battle against his more esteemed counterpart Raddy Antic. From the start the 4-5-1 formation employed by Ghana looked well balanced. With Serbia lining up with a rigid 4-4-2 formation they were a man short in the centre of the pitch and the lack of mobility of Nenad Milijas and Dejan Stankovic highlighted by the impressive work rate and desire of Anthony Annan and Kevin-Prince Boateng.
The first half was played at a good tempo, as dictated by Ghana who looked eager and sharp. However, it was Serbia who had the first attack on goal. Straight from the kick-off Marko Pantelic won possession and hit a sweet shot from some 40 yards that had Richard Kingston the Ghana ‘keeper scrambling across his goal. Unfortunately, that was the best Antic was to see from his side for the next half hour as Ghana began to dominate.
The front five of Ghana soon began to ask questions of the Serbian defence, linking up well with crisp interplay. On the right Prince Tagoe was the epitome of Ghana’s early play. Looking to get forward at every opportunity and running directly at the Serbian defence. Tagoe earned a threatening free-kick on the edge of the box in the 3rd minute after he was desperately scythed down by a combination of Nemanja Vidic and Stankovic.
No Way Through For Prince Tagoe
Whilst dominating the early stages, clear cut chances were few a far between. Kwadwo Asamoah, playing off the front man Gyan found space on the left of the box and his dangerous cross was well cleared for a corner by Serbian front man Nikola Zigic. It was indicative of the balance of play that Zigic was doing more work in his own final third, picking up a booking in the 18th minute for a deliberate block on Abdul Rahim Ayew. From the following free-kick Vidic did just enough to ensure John Mensah’s header missed the target. Two minutes later, Vidic’s partner Aleksander Lukovic was called into action, pressuring Gyan sufficiently to stop him getting a meaningful touch on Boateng’s cross.
More Strong Defending from Lukovic
Serbia’s attacks were sporadic and being dealt with easily by the centre back pairing of Mensah and Isaac Vorsah. Zigic and Pantelic were often too far apart to link-up effectively and the much hyped wingers of Milos Krasic and Milan Jovanovic were struggling to make any impact. The only time Serbia managed to display and creativity was during set-plays. Twice Serbia created half-chances, but the best was let down by the disappointing Pantelic’s poor control when attempting to bring down Milijas’ clever free-kick. Aleksander Kolarov also went close, curling a delicious 30 yard free kick just wide of the right upright.
Despite the lack of flow to Serbia’s play, it was Stankovic who had the first shot on target. The ball breaking to him after a strong run from Jovanovic who turned into trouble instead of shooting after a rare run. Stankovic’s shot from outside the area bounced in front of Kingston who took the ball at the second attempt.
In the early moments of the 2nd half it looked as if Antic had urged his players to break free from their shackles. Krasic and Jovanovic finally were getting behind the Ghanaian defence. Unfortunately neither could produce any quality in their end product. In particular Jovanovic who shot wildly when 10 yards out after a jinking run.
In the 53rd minute a nasty tackle from behind from Lukovic on Asamoah seemed to have been missed by the referee, the impressive Hector Baldassi from Argentina. As play moved on, Tagoe’s delightful cross was headed wide by his opposite winger Ayew. It was Ghana’s best chance of the match so far, and may have led to a goal if Gyan was on the end of the cross instead. Baldassi then called play back to brandish Lukovic his deserved yellow card.
Ayew Heads Wide
A rare slip of concentration in the Ghana defence let Pantelic in from a Serbian throw in, but the striker failed to cut the ball back to a red shirt. Ghana then went the closest yet to breaking the deadlock, as Gyan hit the outside of the post with a free header as the Serbian defence were surprised by a John Paintsil long throw.
Just after the hour mark Antic made changes, with the game seemingly passing Milijas by he was replaced by Kuzmanovic, whilst Zigic who had just missed a half chance with a tough volley at the far post, was replaced by Danko Lazovic. Lazovic immediately moved back into midfield, signalling Antic’s attempt to match up to Ghana’s five man midfield. However, just four minutes later Ghana showed their attacking intentions by replacing Asamoah with Stephen Appiah who was pushed up alongside the tireless Gyan.
Lukovic received his second yellow card for holding back Gyan on 73 minutes. It was a needless foul, committed near the half-way line with Vidic covering Gyan’s run. This forced Antic to make his third substitute, sacrificing Jovanovic for central defender Neven Subotic.
The End Of Lukovic’s World Cup?
The sending off of Lukovic, seemed to energise Serbia and their best chance was to follow. Paintsil was caught in possession on the by-line by Lazovic, whose pull back was missed by Pantelic but not Krasic, who met the ball sweetly with his left foot but hit the shot straight at Kingston who tipped the ball over the bar. From the resulting corner Vidic leapt well, but was off balance as he headed over.
Although down to ten men, Serbia kept coming forward and were beginning to show why some had backed them as dark horses this year. However, a moment of madness from Kuzmanovic was to change the course of the game and possibly Serbia’s 2010 World Cup campaign. A deep cross to the left hand side of the Serbian penalty box was dropping over Kuzmanovic’s shoulder, and whilst Boateng was in close attendance there seemed to be little danger but a panicked flick at the ball with the hand was enough for a clear penalty and the chance for Ghana to pick up the first three points for an African team at the first African World Cup. Gyan held his nerve and confidently smashed the ball past Vladimir Stojkovic to cue amazing celebrations by both players and fans alike.
Gyan Sends Stojkovic The Wrong Way
In injury time Gyan hit the post for the second time, not that this seemed to register with their ecstatic fans who were enjoying an impromptu conga in the terraces. The carnival atmosphere that had started long before kickoff was guaranteed to go long into the night.
Paintsil Flys The Flag
Serbia looked laboured, toothless and most surprisingly lacked desire. The midfield was over run, whilst the attacking prowess of Krasic and Jovanovic was seen only in brief glimpses. Until the sending off of Lukovic they played like a team scared to commit players forward, the usually rampaging Kolarov was stuck firmly at left back for most of the game.
Whilst Serbia were poor, nothing should be taken away from a terrific Ghanaian performance. Their youthful squad played without fear, and over the whole pitch were strong and robust in their tackling. However the most impressive aspect was the discipline with which they played and a further 3 points against an Australian team missing Tim Cahill is a real possibility. For Serbia with Germany up next they will need a massive improvement in all departments to avoid being knocked out after only two games of the competition.