Serbia 0 Ghana 1
Serbia: Stojkovic; Ivanovic, Lukovic, Vidic, Kolarov; Krasic, Stankovic, Milijas (Kuzmanovic 62), Jovanovic (Subotic 76); Pantelic, Zigic (Lazovic 69)
Ghana: Kingson; Paintsil, Mensah, Vorsah, Sarpei; Tagoe, Annan, KP Boateng (Addy 90), Asamoah (Appiah 73), Ayew; Gyan (Owusu-Abeyie 90)
Milovan Rajevac’s young Ghanaian side produced the most attractive display of the tournament so far to overcome Serbia 1-0 in the first game in Group C, taking a giant stride towards qualification from the first phase of the competition and dealing a hammer-blow to the World Cup dreams of the much-fancied Eastern Europeans.
The first-half started at a far quicker pace than any of the tournament’s previous games, with Ghana’s attacking interpretation of 4-5-1 (although it at times resembled both a 4-1-4-1 and a 4-2-3-1) providing them with a width that was supplemented to good effect by John Paintsil and Hans Sarpei, the team’s attacking full-back pairing. Rajevac’s side particularly enjoyed success down the left side, with Andre Ayew and Kwadwo Asamoah linking up to cause Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic – who was arguably too keen to get forward and not sufficiently protected by Milos Krasic – some serious problems on the right side of the Serbian defence.
With Anthony Annan sitting deep and anchoring the midfield, the likes of Kevin-Prince Boateng and Asamoah were given the freedom to get forward and support the lone striker, Asamoah Gyan, relentlessly attempting to break down an uncharacteristically shaky Serbian back line. In fact, Radomir Antic’s team at times looked very flat in the face of some excellent attacking football from their West African opponents during the first 45, struggling to keep hold of the ball and threatening only sporadically from set pieces. However, as the half wore on the Eastern Europeans attempted, with a degree of success it must be said, to slow the pace of the game, making the midfield battle increasingly physical and breaking up the rhythm of some of the Black Stars’ forward play.
The second-half followed a similar pattern to that of the first for much of its duration, with Ghana causing the Serbians continuous problems with their skill and pace, playing some of the best football the tournament has seen in its first few days. Antic attempted to alter the flow of the game, changing his team’s shape to 4-2-3-1 with 25 minutes to go, but he was forced to scrap his plans to push for the victory when Aleksandar Lukovic was issued a second yellow card for hauling Gyan to the ground, seeing Serbia reduced to ten men and forced to adopt a deep 4-4-1 formation to hold on for a point. Rajevac responded in kind, switching Ghana to a 4-4-2 by introducing Stephen Appiah for the last 20 minutes, the game stretching to become increasingly open as the players’ fitness was tested in the latter stages.
Somewhat ironically, Serbia played their best football of the match following the defender’s dismissal, with Krasic, Vidic and Ivanovic all going close to breaking the deadlock late-on. But the game was eventually decided by a moment of crass stupidity from Zdravko Kuzmanovic who, after misjudging a header in his own area, stuck out a hand to divert the ball away from the advancing Kevin-Prince Boateng. A penalty was correctly awarded by the officials before being coolly dispatched by the Rennes striker to seal a famous victory for his country, giving the Black Stars an excellent chance of progressing to the last 16 even at this early stage of the competition.
The Equaliser’s Man of the Match:
Andre Ayew (Ghana) – The Marseille player had a superb game of the left side of Ghana’s midfield, causing Ivanovic problems throughout and creating many of his team’s best chances. Rajevac’s decision to stick with the 20 year-old at the expense of Sulley Muntari was thoroughly vindicated and this tournament could provide Ayew with the chance to emerge from his illustrious father’s shadow as a world-class talent in his own right.