By TRAVIS CLARK
It came down to goal differential, but in the end, the Black Stars of Ghana hung on to bring some respect to African soccer.
In need of a win or draw to secure a berth in the World Cup's knockout stages, Ghana was unable to find gaps in a tough German side, losing 1-0 to a Mesut Ozil curler in the second half.
All eyes were on Australia-Serbia as a result, with the Socceroos needing three points, plus some help to progress. A late goal from the Serbians, following a rare Marc Schwarzer error, gave them a lifeline to deny Ghana's progress. It was not to be, however, and Ghana and Germany progressed through to the second round.
Here are brief recaps from Wednesday's Group D action:
GERMANY 1, GHANA 0
Ghana and Germany teamed up to put in an energetic show at Soccer City. Both sides would assure a spot in the knockout round, and a wide-open match ensued.
Germany was forced to play without Miroslav Klose, on a red card suspension. His replacement, Cacau, offered little in replacement as the Germans struggled to breakdown a tight-knit defense keyed by Richard Kingson, a stalwart in the Black Stars' goal. Ghana looked to soak up the German possession, and led by Asamoah Gyan, aimed attack on the counter.
With such an open match unfolding in Johannesburg, a goalless result seemed far-fetched to consider. And it was Ozil, one of the young German midfielders, to engineer the breakthrough. He corralled a Thomas Mueller pass, controlled the ball in space at the top of the box, and whipped in a volley past a diving Kingson.
Gyan and Ghana kept the fight up, but with Australia in control in the other match, the Black Stars were fortunate that they were unable to convert a handful of second-half chances. The best was created by Gyan, who back-heeled a pass into the path of Andrew Ayew, only for Ayew to be thwarted by a last-second intervention by Philipp Lahm.
The result stood, and fortunately for Ghana, they held on to secure the second spot in Group D.
AUSTRALIA 2, SERBIA 1
For the Serbians, it was win-and-you're in. And the pre-tournament dark-horses couldn't get it done.
A flying Serbian attack, led by Milos Krasic, had the Socceroos running scared in the first half. Only the heroics of Australia goalie Marc Schwarzer — not to mention the offside flag — kept Serbia off the scoreboard as Krasic teamed up with Zdravko Kuzmanovic to threaten Schwarzer's goal early and often.
Australia, in need of some help, not to mention a massive winning margin, came out and seized the initiative in the second half. They threw caution to the wind, bombing forward to test the Serbian defense. Tim Cahill's 69th minute goal boosted the confidence of the men in green-and-gold, and a Brett Holman strike four minutes later added optimism to the Socceroos' slim chances of progression.
A Schwarzer error in the 84th minute erased those faint hopes. The sure-handed 'keeper spilled a Zoran Tosic shot straight into the path of Marko Pantelic, who cut Australia's lead in half. Australian defense held strong to ensure the three points — but missed out on progression.
GROUP D FINAL TABLE
1. Germany ……..6 points, +4 GD
2. Ghana…4 points, 0 GD
3.Australia …………4 points, -3 GD
4. Serbia…………3 points, -1 GD
SBI'S GROUP D BEST XI
What do you think about Group D? Are the Germans still considered favorites? Glad the USA will face Ghana?
Share your thoughts below.