The conditions could barely have been more conducive to football at the Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Tshwane/Pretoria yesterday, where an excellent pitch, warm weather and a buoyant atmosphere were all very much in evidence. Indeed, the Ghanaian supporters were already singing and dancing two hours before their side kicked off their 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ campaign against Serbia.
Clearly determined to become the first African side to pick up three points at this competition, a feat they also achieved at Germany 2006, the Black Stars took the initiative from the outset, with Asamoah Gyan, Andre Ayew, Kevin-Prince Boateng and Kwadwo Asamoah all looking threatening throughout. As time ran out, however, it appeared Ghana’s efforts would result only in a single-point haul, only for Zdravko Kuzmanovic to handball in the box with just five minutes remaining.
Rennes striker Gyan stepped up to fire home the resulting spot-kick and trigger wild celebrations from the Ghanaian faithful and clinch an ideal start for Milovan Rajevac’s charges, who in the process gave themselves a great chance of reaching the Round of 16. It was also a fine birthday present for goalkeeper Richard Kingson, who crowned his 32nd year with a solid display between the sticks.
It was incredible. We managed to do that and win for our country, and we know all Africa is celebrating with us.
After the initial elation, the team danced and sang for a while before gathering in a circle for a peaceful moment of prayer. “We’re thanking God for this win. We asked him to help us pick up more victories and reach the next round,” the Wigan Athletic custodian told FIFA.com.
“It was a great win and we could sense just how important it was afterwards. We knew how crucial it was to get off to a winning start, so that’s why we worked so hard for it. Once the final whistle blew we realised we’d won for ourselves and all Africa. It was a wonderful birthday gift from my team-mates. We’re like a family and we all work together towards the same goals.
“We are a more experienced team than we were 2006. I still remember our opening defeat against Italy four years ago. We were very nervous because we’d never been to the World Cup before, but all that’s changed now. We are reaping the benefits of our hard work and determination. We know that winning the next game will see us through, so we’ll do our best to achieve that and make Africa happy and proud.”
Meanwhile, Bologna midfielder Stephen Appiah, who joined the fray late in the second period, felt that Ghana should savour the win before turning their thoughts to the challenges ahead. “We’ll celebrate tonight and tomorrow we’ll get back down to work and start preparing for our second match,” said the player, whose team meet Australia on 19 June. “Our next game is going to be both extremely difficult and very important. I’m hoping we can take all three points and seal our ticket for the next phase.”
Hoffenheim's Prince Tagoe added: "It was very tough. We tried hard to score and we managed to create a number of chances, but Serbia are strong in defence. We never stopped believing though and eventually we got the reward our persistence deserved. Now we’ll turn our focus on Australia.”
Also in and around the celebrations was Andre Ayew, son of Ghana legend Abedi Pele. “It was incredible, it’s really important to start the campaign with a win," he said.
“Our team spirit was key, we wanted to play as a unit rather than individuals. We managed to do that and win for our country, and we know all Africa is celebrating with us. Let’s hope we can make the dream come true and go on to book a place in the Round of 16.”