Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Germany edge Ghana, both advance

A second-half Mesut Ozil volley proved enough for Germany to edge Ghana in a riveting, chance-rich contest at Soccer City, where the result proved enough to send both teams into the Round of 16. Joachim Low's side finished as Group D winners to book a date with arch-rivals England, while Milovan Rajevac's charges will now meet USA, after benefitting from Australia's 2-1 defeat of Serbia to go through on goal difference.

It was evident from the outset that both teams were intent on playing adventurous football, and the chances were swift in arriving for Germany. The first fell to Cacau. Racing into the right side of the Ghana box, the Brazil-born 29-year-old struck the ball firmly but straight into the arms of a grateful Richard Kingson, who did well to gather Thomas Muller's cross moments later.

After six minutes a headed clearance dropped to Lukas Podolski, whose first-time strike was deflected wide for a corner, which came to nothing. Almost immediately, the same player sprinted down the left and cut the ball back. Jonathan Mensah, under pressure from Cacau, almost turned it into his own net, but was spared by the diving Kingson. Ghana had their first chance on 13 minutes. Kwadwo Asamoah broke into the Germany box and unselfishly laid the ball back for Asamoah Gyan, whose effort was blocked by Bastian Schweinsteiger.

Midway through the half, Ozil deceived the offside trap and went clean through on goal. The Germany No8 looked odds-on to score, but Kingson spread himself masterfully and made a block with his legs. Ten minutes later it was his outstretched hands that came to Ghana's rescue, repelling a Cacau drive from ten yards.

Andre Ayew expertly crafted a chance on the half-hour mark, a sublime feint allowing him to leave Jerome Boateng in his wake and cross for Gyan, who could not get enough power on his close-range header to trouble Manuel Neuer. The final opportunity of the opening 45 fell to Gyan, who outjumped his marker but was unable to keep his header down. The referee's whistle, which could barely be heard for the immense noise inside Soccer City, then brought a compelling opening period to a close.

The Germans emerged intent on breaking the deadlock. However, despite being camped inside the Ghana half and dominating possession, they were unable to test Kingson in the opening five minutes. The Black Stars, by contrast, required just one attack to force Neuer into action. Gyan sent Asamoah through on goal, but his shot was expertly saved by the sprawling German No1.

The three-time world champions made their adversaries pay on the hour mark. Muller collected the ball on the right flank and played it square to Ozil, who was centrally positioned, two yards outside the area. The Werder Bremen playmaker touched the ball into the path of his left boot, and casually volleyed it past Kingson and just inside his right-hand post.

Ghana, undeterred, refused to accept defeat. Gyan headed into the side-netting on 64 minutes, before back-heeling the ball into the path of Ayew, whose goal-bound shot was crucially blocked by Philipp Lahm. The Europeans played more conservatively thereafter, and their ball retention kept Ghanaian opportunities at a minimum. Sulley Muntari had a half-chance for the west Africans, but his speculative shot from 25 yards flew over the bar.

Sami Khedira, Ozil and Podolski, so adept at finding white shirts with their passes, managed to play the clock down until the final whistle sparked German celebrations. Seconds later, upon hearing of Australia's defeat of Serbia, Ghanaian arms were also flung jubilantly in the Johannesburg air. Germany will now face England in Mangaung/Bloemfontein on Sunday for a place in the quarter-finals, while Ghana will take on USA in Rustenburg 24 hours earlier.

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