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FIFA World Cup: Ghana edge past Serbia to record first African win

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Ghana came out on top against Serbia by the slender margin of 1-0 in a tense scrappy affair in the opening match of Group D of the FIFA World Cup played at the Loftus Versfeld stadium in Pretoria. The match resembled a battle ground for long periods of the game with both sides fighting for every inch of turf. While Serbia seemed content with absorbing all the pressure, Ghana relentlessly attacked the Serbian fort. Serbia were a tad unlucky to have defender Aleksandar Lukovic sent off in the 74th minute, and then a foolish hand ball from Zdravko Kuzmanovic gifted the Africans a penalty. Asamoah Gyan, desperately unfortunate not to score in open play, stepped up to coolly slot the spot kick and give the African continent plenty to celebrate. The result certainly makes things interesting in a highly competitive Group which also features Germany and Australia, who will do battle later on Sunday night.

The starting line ups held little surprise with both teams resorting to their tried and tested first teams. Serbia may have had a horror show at the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany but they have come a long way since. With players of the attacking calibre of Milos Krasic and Milan Jovanovic in their ranks to complement the rock solid defence, the Serbian team is definitely one with a bright future. Ghana on the other hand are without their best player - midfield general Michael Essien - and are devoid of players of the same calibre. A second high profile player, Sulley Muntari is in the squad, but was not fit enough to take the field today due to injury.

The African nation took the last World Cup by storm with their attacking and penetrative play. However, much has changed since then. The attacking prowess has been replaced by a defensive solidity that has seen them fielding as much as three holding players in the middle of the park. The absence of a significant goal scoring threat is a clear worry though and could well be their Achilles heel in the tournament.

Marko Pantelic started the match with some confidence as his 40-yard pile-driver drifted wide inside the opening 10 seconds! The match though soon settled into the high octane scrappy affair it was touted to be. The closest any side came to threatening in the first 15 minutes was when Kwadwo Asamoah's drilled cross was sliced over uncomfortably by Nikola Zigic - the tallest player in the World Cup at a little over 6 feet 7 inches. Ghana were definitely on the front foot with the Serbians trying to absorb the early bursts from the African nation.

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Ghana almost broke the deadlock in the 20th minute when Kevin Prince Boateng's delightful cross was centimetres short of Asamoah Gyan in the 6 yard area. Serbia's attacking forays were limited to aerial balls thrown at Zigic as both the wingers - Krasic and Jovanovic - were kept on a tight leash by the Ghanaians. With little action on the pitch to lift the crowd to their feet, the raucous fans resorted to a series of Mexican waves to make the most of their day. Pantelic missed a good chance to play the ball in the box with a posse of Serbian players waiting in the 26th minute as his ball control let him down at a crucial juncture.

Ghana showed plenty of initiative though but their balls into the Serbian box were comfortably dealt with by Manchester United's defensive lynchpin Nemanja Vidic and his fellow defensive mates. The first shot on target came from Serbian skipper Dejan Stankovic in the 38th minute - after a mazy run from Milan Jovanovic - but it was a tame effort that was gathered rather uncomfortably by the Ghana keeper Richard Kingson. Tactical fouls seemed to be the order of the day as both sides made every effort of breaking up play in the middle of the park. The first half soon came to an end with neither side seemingly with the upper hand.

There was an urgent need of change in mentalities as both sides dished out a tense cagey affair that was in contrast to the must-win nature of this game.

The second half started on much the same note with both sides trading punches and seemingly incapable of producing any magic in front of goal. Milan Jovanovic - the Standard Liege player who is now rumoured to be on his way to Liverpool - showed some traces of brilliance in getting to the final third but the final ball was lacking much to the chagrin of the experienced Serbian coach Radomir Antic.

Nikola Zigic almost got the breakthrough at the hour mark but some brave defending saw him fluff his chance. Ghana replied within a minute as Asamoah Gyan headed a long throw onto the post as both sides seemed to up the ante. The African nation was threatening with their relentless drive and pace as the Serbian team seemed to struggle against their all action counterparts.

The match got its talking point in the 74th minute when Serbian central defender Aleksander Lukovic got sent off after a second bookable offence. Coach Radomir Antic wasted little time in plugging the defensive gap by substituting Jovanovic for central defender Neven Subotic. Despite the man advantage, Ghana found it difficult to prise open the Serbian defence ably marshalled by Vidic.

Serbia almost had the shock lead in the 79th minute when Milos Krasic goal bound effort was saved adroitly by the Ghana keeper. Nemanja Vidic then headed narrowly over from the resultant corner and then minutes later Chelsea right back Branislav Ivanovic blasted one over the bar as Serbia suddenly looked dangerous on the break. The sending off had definitely brought the game alive.

The match was turned on its head when substitute Kuzmanovic blatantly handled a cross inside the box and the referee had little hesitation in pointing to the spot. Asamoah Gyan stepped up and converted the penalty in some fashion - placing the ball right-of-centre. With 6 minutes to play, the writing looked well and truly on the wall. The goal scorer for the Ghanaians almost got a second one in added time but his curled effort struck the post for a second time and fell safely for the Serbs to clear.

There was no reprieve for the 10 men of Serbia as they failed to make up the lost ground. Ghana, on the day, deserved the win as they had shown the drive throughout the match to take on the Serbian defensive wall. The European nation on the other hand seemed to pay the penalty for being too defensive in their approach and the red card to Lukovic 15 minutes from time turned out to be their death knell.

The tournament now gets even tougher for the Serbs who would have to cope up with the might of Germany and the industry of Australia with the aim of winning both. Ghana on the other hand did their last 16 hopes no harm with an energetic display on the night. They needed some luck - the sending off and the hand ball - but on the balance of play, they earned the win on a difficult evening in Pretoria. They next face Australia on Saturday the 19th, a day after Serbia do battle with Germany.

Teams:

Ghana: Kingson, Vorsah, Mensah, Sarpei, Paintsil, Annan, Asamoah (Appiah 73'), Boateng (Addy 91'), Ayew, Gyan (Owusu-Abeyie 92'), Tagoe

Serbia: Stojkovic, Lukovic, Vidic, Ivanovic, Kolarov, Jovanovic (Subotic 76'), Stankovic, Milijas (Kuzmanovic 62'), Krasic, Pantelic, Zigic (Lazovic 69')

Ghana 1-0 Serbia
Asamoah Gyan 83' (pen)

Check out the Points Table

Also Read:

Germany 4 - 0 Australia Match Report

Germany vs. Serbia - Match Preview

Photos by 2010 FIFA World Cup Organising Committee South Africa

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