An 85rd-minute Asamoah Gyan penalty snatched Ghana a deserved 1-0 victory over Serbia in their Group D opener at the Loftus Versfeld Stadium. The Black Stars, despite having the better of the play, appeared en route to a goalless draw until the Beli Orlovi hit the self-destruct button late on, with Aleksandar Lukovic earning himself a red card before Zdravko Kuzmanovic’s needless handball presented the Africans with the spot-kick from which they seized the three points.
The game got off to a lively start, with Gyan firing a free-kick narrowly over from the edge of the box before Prince Tagoe shot wide. Ghana continued to press forward. Kwadwo Asamoah’s 18th-minute set-piece found the head of Mensah, who was unable to direct it on target, while Gyan, from six yards out, was just inches from connecting with Boateng’s teasing cross two minutes later when the slightest of touches would have surely broken the deadlock.
Serbia spurned a golden opportunity on 26 minutes. Milijas curled a set-piece into the path of Pantelic, who had cleverly spun and lost his marker to find space inside the penalty area. However, the Ajax forward’s control deserted him and the ball went out for a goal-kick. Soon after, Kolarov curled a firmly-stuck free-kick narrowly wide of the post.
Ghana emerged from the break in determined mood and proceeded to monopolise possession. The opportunities duly began to flow. Eight minutes after the restart, Tagoe curled a delightful ball to the back post, but the unmarked Ayew somehow failed to hit the target with a close-range header. With the hour mark approaching, Gyan stole in front of Vidic to head the ball against the post from five yards, and Tagoe then volleyed wide a difficult chance at the back post.
With 16 minutes remaining, Ghana gained a numerical advantage. Lukovic, who had already been booked, held back Gyan and was consequently given a second yellow card. This, curiously, spurred Serbia into life and when Marko Pantelic’s mishit shot fell inviting into the path of Krasic, the CSKA Moscow winger should have done better then shooting straight at goalkeeper Richard Kingson.
Milovan Rajevac’s side swiftly regained control, though, and got the reward they merited five minutes from time. There appeared no danger when an overhit cross from the left travelled towards Kuzmanovic, but he inexplicably handled it to afford Ghana a glorious chance to clinch victory. And that Gyan did, thumping the ball down the middle and into the back of the net. The scorer then hit the post late on, but that will have done little to dampen his delight on an afternoon when he walked away with the Budweiser Man of the Match Award, Ghana put three points on the board and Africa got its first victory of this FIFA World Cup.