Wednesday, June 23, 2010 ESPNsoccernet: June 24, 6:19 PM UK
Ozil inspires to book date with England
John Brewin, Soccer City
The good burghers of Bloemfontein better beware, one of the World Cup's great rivalries is coming to town. And tabloid writers can sharpen their pencils in search of the perfect penalty pun or, as will still likely happen after all these years, wartime imagery can be dusted off in all its tiresome glory. But, for this tournament's sake, there is a more positive news story to be told. With more than a little thanks to events in Nelspruit, Africa has a representative in the knockout stages.
• Ghana 0-1 Germany
• Uli: A perfect night
Events taking place between Australia and Serbia in a town 300 kilometres away held sway for the latter stages of this game, providing Germany's closing out of this necessary win with a distracted edge. Down on the Ghanaian bench, sums were visibly being done as first Australia stole into a two-goal lead, and then Serbia hit back. The two matches ended concurrently, with African hearts not left to flutter more than seconds after the final whistle in Johannesburg. An apparent Marko Pantelic equaliser in Nelspruit that was chalked off for offside may just have brought Accra to a temporary standstill but the celebrations could soon begin.
After that late, late American goal in Pretoria, England expected Germany to be their second round opponents. It is a draw that neither can be fully relishing. The Germans may fear that England's slow start may evolve into a brisker show of form, while for Fabio Capello's men there is always the insecurity that facing a nation that has got the better of them far too often can bring.
But first for the Germans, the need to put their mixed Group D behind them. With it came a revenge mission and with that, a family affair. Among the ranks of the Ghanaians lay a nemesis, a man who ended Michael Ballack's World Cup aspirations at Wembley in May. Berlin-born Kevin-Prince Boateng, was the Indian-inked breaker of Ballack's ankle in the FA Cup final and his starting presence was greeted by German fans with a loud baying of boos. Yet further intrigue awaited, in the presence of Jerome Boateng in the German defence, who had chosen to play for the country of his own birth rather than that of his parents. Jerome and Kevin-Prince are brothers and thus marked an oddity in World Cup history: the first siblings to face each other in a finals match.
Yet Kevin-Prince may have done his younger brother's team something of a favour. Rookie Sami Khedria's replacement of Ballack looks something of a boon to the German midfield even though it arrived far more by accident than design - and there is little to no debate over whether Boateng's ruinous tackle was actually an accident. The half-Tunisian Stuttgarter brings far more energy to the midfield than the absent captain, and also provides a base from which Mezut Ozil can display his playmaking power. Ballack, as in his sometimes uneasy partnership with Frank Lampard at Chelsea, would seem likely to be concede his role as midfield mainstay to a 21-year old. Bastian Schweinsteiger too, has benefitted from not being in the shadows of the senior man.
Ozil proved to be the match-winner here, recovering from a first-half miss to eventually supply a sweetly-struck winner in the second. Granted a No.10 role of playmaker, the work of Khedria and Schweinsteiger allows the Werder Bremen man to flit behind the front line. His ancestry may perhaps allow him to be a very different player than the traditional German playmaker. Further forward than the likes of a Ballack or a Bernd Schuster and far more delicate than a Thomas Hassler, his style more closely resembles the likes of Mehmet Scholl or indeed another German Turk in Yildiray Basturk, the hugely visible strings-puller in Turkey's rush to the semi-finals in 2002.
A star of Germany's Under-21 European Championship win in 2009, Ozil provides a welcome new dimension to Joachim Low's team to that with which they fumbled to the finals of Euro 2008. In a World Cup yet to anoint a new breed of stars, he may just end up as the young force of the tournament.
Ghana, meanwhile, have dealt with life without a Chelsea star in Michael Essien and seemingly wish to do so without a Champions League winner in Sulley Muntari, a late substitute here. Stephen Appiah too warmed the Soccer City bench, so the youthful team that lost in this year's African Cup of Nations now forms the backbone. As World Under-20 champions of 2009, they may also have much to look forward to beyond the reaching of their second successive World Cup last 16. Just as in 2006, and barring an Ivorian miracle on Friday, they are keeping the African end up, and will provide genuinely dangerous opposition for USA, whom their older generation disposed of in the group stages four years ago.
In Anthony Annan, they may just have unearthed a midfield engine as effective as the more famous aforementioned trio and, until events elsewhere extracted the sting from this affair, Ghana constantly overflowed with energy; the pace of nominal centre-forward Asamoah Gyan flanked by Andre Ayew and Prince Tagoe. Annan's hoovering role also allowed Kwadwo Asamoah and Boateng the elder the freedom to break, as Khedira and Schweinsteiger's labours were reduced to dirty work for a great deal of the match. Germany were by no means comfortable in gaining the win they needed to head Group D.
Ghana's worries of an exit lasted nine minutes following Ozil's goal on the hour. As soon as news of goals from Cahill and Holman in Nelspruit passed into the consciousness of the Soccer City crowd, this game's concept of competition faded. For Ghana, it represented a risky strategy of hanging on for 1-0, as sorry Slovenia can countenance after their Port Elizabeth moments of jubilation turning to desolation. Meanwhile Germany also looked happy to settle with their lot.
This time, it worked for both of them. Germany have their chance to further exert their hoodoo over the English. Ghana can ride with the pride of a continent.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Mesut Ozil - In scoring the goal, Ozil made happy amends for blowing the best chance of the first half and he ended the game as the marked difference between the sides. A drifter but one with intent, he had already impressed with his creativity and drive before delivering a well-hit winner.
GERMANY VERDICT: The fluidity of that demolition of the Aussies was not present, nor was the high farce of their somewhat unfortunate defeat to the Serbs. Their defence was given some heavy moments by the speed of Ghana but Philipp Lahm showed his experience and new-found leadership in often steadying the ship. Note of Germanic caution: both Ozil and Schweinsteiger left the field with what looked like heavy knocks.
GHANA VERDICT: Stadium support was on their side and post-match jubilation in the press box reflected African pride. Their strength and speed may make them a difficult cove for Team USA and, while their fate still lay more in their own hands, they caused considerable trouble for the Germans.
THE HOOK OF THE DRAW: Englishmen (and Germans) look away now. While Fabio Capello's team face a possible and probable trio of Germany, Argentina and Spain in their route to the final, Ghana enter a quartet which must supply a semi-finalist. The winner of USA v Ghana plays the victor of South Korea v Uruguay for a surprising participant in the last four.