Sunday, 13 June 2010

Ghana v Serbia

Ghana 1 - 0 Serbia
Gyan (pen) 84

It was the same scoreline as Slovenia v Algeria, but there was a world of difference in class. England have been very lucky with the draw, and Australia are just screwed. Sorry guys. And I wrote that before the Germany game.

For Serbia, it's actually their first World Cup match as an independent country. This may seem odd given that it's many years since the breakup of the old Yugoslavia, but Serbia competed nominally as Yugoslavia for a few years, and then as Serbia and Montenegro. In the last World Cup only one Montenegran player made the squad, and he didn't get a game, but since then there's been a political separation between the two, and now Montenegro compete separately. Which means they'll never go to the World Cup, ever, because Montenegro has about as many people as Bristol if you include all the bits round the edge, and that just isn't enough. In fact, Serbia and Montenegro is about as balanced a team as Bristol City and Rovers would be. We'd have our old goalkeeper back, thanks, and that's really about it.

It's an odd paradox, actually. Nationalists love national football teams, then they agitate to break countries down into smaller and smaller enclaves, which breaks up national football teams. I expect it makes sense to them.

There's surely an excellent argument for reunification as a general principle, just to win trophies. At some point I'm going to pick a team from a hypothetical reunified Roman Empire, just to make the point.

Back in the world where football is just a game, there was a game. Both sides started strongly. Pantelic had a shot after just ten seconds, and Annan returned the favour a minute later. Both went wide, but already we'd had more excitement than the whole of Slovenia v Algeria.

Ghana had the best of it early doors. Mensah's header went just wide, and Prince Boateng (is he an actual prince, or what?) was six inches from getting a foot on a cross that must have scored. Serbia came back with a free kick from Kolarov that just missed the top right corner. Did you know Terry Pratchett had written a book about how good he is? Wait for it. It's called the Kolarov Magic. The Kolarov Magic! Oh, please yourselves. Is this thing on?

It was about this time I noticed the Ghanaian Fulham player, John Paintsil. His name is occasionally misspelt Pantsil, but today it was given as Panstil. On the back of his own shirt. That's the kind of thing that gives you confidence in your team's administration, isn't it?

And there was a banner in the crowd, that just said SEX MACHINES. I can only think of two explanations for this. Either one of the teams has The Sex Machines as their nickname, or it's a new form of spam. There was probably another banner just out of shot that said www.buyourvibrators.com.

Actually, I can think of many explanations. Perhaps they were a James Brown tribute band offering their services. Or they could have been the halftime entertainment, waiting to go on the pitch and strip off to the sound of R Kelly. Or - actually, that's it. I promise.

The second half took a few minutes to get going, then there was a flurry of chances. Ayeu's shot and Gyan's header both went narrowly wide for Ghana, then Pantelic ran free along the goal line, but his pull back didn't go to a Serbian player. This carried on for a while, until the decisive moment of the game.

Lukovic pulled Gyan back in the 74th minute, and got a yellow card. It then turned out it was his second, and he was off. I hadn't noticed the first, but then neither had the commentator, or the BBC website. Apparently it was in the 54th minute, but whether the referee had bothered to tell anyone remains unclear

As sometimes happens, this seemed to galvanise the Serbs. Kingson made a great save to keep out a short range effort from Krasic, Vidic headed the resulting corner over and Ivanovic's shot from thirty yards out went just over. Unfortunately, Ivanovic then snatched defeat from the jaws of drawing in the 83rd minute when he blatantly handled a cross in the box, and Gyan scored from the penalty spot.

In the last few minutes it was all Ghana, and Gyan was unlucky to hit the post with Stojkovic well beaten. It must have been a nerve racking injury time for Ghanaians, but it seemed clear enough to us that the game was over.

So Ghana and Germany are leading the running in Group D. I can't say that's a surprise.

Next, Australia. Oh dear.

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