Sunday, June 13, 2010 ESPNsoccernet: June 14, 11:19 PM UK
Ghana give hope to African dream
Andrew Warshaw, Loftus Versfeld Stadium
They celebrated as if they had won the World Cup itself and who could blame them?
• Serbia 0-1 Ghana
Wearing an all-white strip reminiscent of a certain famous club side in Spain, Ghana gave Africa its first victory of this most iconic of tournaments on Sunday - and in the process put down a serious marker.
Without injured Chelsea midfielder Michael Essien, the man we all thought couldn't be replaced, the four-time champions of Africa got the better of one of Europe's tightest defences and in Asamoah Gyan had the one player on the pitch who always looked like winning an absorbing game.
When only 20, it was Gyan who scored the fastest goal of the 2006 World Cup after just 68 seconds, a milestone for the Black Stars as they went on to beat Czech Republic 2-0 in Cologne and qualify for the second round.
He missed a penalty late in that game against the Czechs, but when he got the same opportunity on Sunday, this time in the 84th minute, he made no mistake, securing three vital points that will give a huge boost to the tournament, desperate for an African country to go deep into the draw.
The Serbs, so impressive in qualifying when they topped their group ahead of France and Romania, will argue that they never got the rub of the green.
Aleksandar Lukovic was red-carded for his second bookable offence in the 74th minute and it was substitute Zdravko Kuzmanovic who gave away the all-important penalty, penalised for handball.
Kuzmanovic trudged off in tears at the end but in truth both decisions were spot on. The fact is that Raddy Antic's side, who recorded the most victories and conceded the fewest goals in qualifying, were second best for long periods even with Nemanja Vidic and Branislav Ivanovic, of Manchester United and Chelsea respectively, marshalling their mean defence.
How ironic that it should have been another Serb, Ghana manager Milovan Rajevac, who got his tactics spot on, playing Gyan on his own up front and supporting him with a veritable feast of hard-running midfielders.
When Gyan leapt elegantly to head John Pantsil's long throw against the post, it seemed their chance may have gone. But Richard Kingson produced a fine stop to deny Milos Krasic before Kuzmanovic inexplicably left his arm lingering when attempting to head clear a dangerous cross. And, by the end, Gyan could have had a hat-trick as his curling shot struck the post.
Nothing, yet, is won and nothing lost. Ghana, making only their second appearance in the finals, have consistently produced top-class footballers but have yet to harness that into an effective national team at the highest level.
Maybe, just maybe, this is their time. It was certainly what we had been waiting for: an African win at an African World Cup. No wonder the Ghana fans, decked out in green, yellow and red, danced in the stands and jigged their way out of the stadium at the finish. If Friday's opening game was about national pride, this was the celebration of an entire continent.