Serbia 0–1 Ghana: Black Stars are first African team to win on African soil
The opening game of World Cup Group D was dramatically won by Ghana, who scored a late penalty to punish Serbia for not being strong with their defences. Though the first half failed to produce any goals, there were chances at either end. Despite early intent from Serbia, it was the Black Stars who looked the more likely team to open the scoring. After the interval, the pattern of the game remained the same until Aleksandar Lukovic was dismissed for a second booking, inviting Ghana to really go for the jugular late on. And the Africans aimed the decisive blow from the penalty spot in the closing stages of the game when Asamoah Gyan thumped high into the net.
It was an inauspicious start for the Ghanaians, but they would soon enjoy efforts of their own through a spectacular long-range volley from Anthony Annan and a free kick hit wastefully over the top by Asamoah Gyan. With quarter of an hour gone, a fierce driven centre from Kwadwo Asamoah had to be blocked away from the six-yard box by Nikola Zigic following a corner kick, continuing the upbeat and open beginning in Pretoria.
The African side were the more threatening in the early stages, making hay down the left hand flank. Kevin-Price Boateng broke positively into that area of the field with 20 minutes on the clock before delivering right footed towards Gyan, who just failed to get a decisive touch to the ball. By no means were Ghana dominating, despite their greater number of chances, but Serbia were allowing openings to pass them by, with the control of Pantelic particularly disappointing at crucial moments. Nevertheless, lanky forward Zigic was posing an unusual problem for the Black Stars’ defence, and after the Birmingham City man had drawn a free kick on the edge of the box, Aleksandar Kolarov bent an effort just wide.
Some of the game’s early effervescence had died by this stage, with the Black Stars quick to stifle Serbia by building two walls of four when they ceded possession. Aside from an awkward drive from Dejan Stankovic, which Kingson gathered at the second attempt, the more experienced Europeans were successfully tethered prior to the interval.
After the break, Jovanovic jinked his way into the box but chose poorly when faced with the option to shoot or pass. The Liverpool-bound attacker could have drilled across the front of the goal but instead slashed wide of the near post. Typically, Ghana responded. Tagoe’s fine centre was headed wide by Ayew, who should have found the net unmarked six yards from the target, before the same player sliced past from outside the box after showing superb fighting spirit to battle through two challenges.
A long throw from John Pantsil was then attacked brilliantly by Asamoah Gyan, who rose above Nemanja Vidic to graze the post with a near post header. Moments later, Tagoe directed an Ayew cross wide. Amidst this plethora of opportunities to the Ghanaians, Serbia also created their best opening. Pantelic gathered the ball on the left touchline before delivering perfectly to Zigic, who failed to make proper contact with the ball, allowing the opening to pass.
With quarter of an hour remaining, Aleksandar Lukovic, who had enjoyed a strong game in the heart of the defence, was guilty of a tug in the centre of the park while Ghana appeared to be going nowhere and was promptly shown a second yellow card, having been cautioned ten minutes after the restart. Serbia understandably packed their defence thereafter, yet counter-intuitively looked dangerous all of a sudden. Danko Lazovic’s tenacity seemingly setup Pantelic for a simple finish from 12 yards, but the forward mishit his shot totally. Still, the ball fell kindly for Krasic, whose firm shot was not accurate enough to beat Kingson. Vidic and Branislav Ivanovic would both send meaningful efforts off target in the following moments, but their defensive duties were of primary importance at this stage.
These efforts came from sporadic raids forwards by the Serbians, and their defence was under pressure from Ghana’s relentless attack. A moment of madness from Zdravko Kuzmanovic cost the Europeans as he inexplicably handled a long cross in the box. From the penalty spot, Gyan cracked a shot into the top left hand corner. Kuzmanovic had a shot at immediate redemption but leaned back and shot hopelessly over from the edge of the penalty box, consigning Serbia to an opening game loss, though it could have been heavier as Gyan struck the post in stoppage time.