Ghana make winning start to World Cup campaign
Serbia 0 Ghana 1
Asamoah Gyan's late penalty earned Ghana a winning start to their World Cup campaign at the expense of 10-man Serbia in Pretoria tonight.
The impressive Gyan, who also hit the post twice for Ghana, fired home from the spot in 84th minute after Zdravko Kuzmanovic had been adjudged to have handled a cross in the area.
That sealed a closely-fought Group D encounter at Loftus Versfeld stadium and puts Ghana in a promising position to progress through to the knockout phase in their second appearance at the World Cup finals.
For Serbia, who were playing with a man less since the 74th minute following the dismissal of Aleksandar Lukovic, they now have a mountain to climb as they face group favourites Germany in their next match.
The match pitted old friends and fellow Serbians Radomir Antic and Milovan Rajevac against each other on the respective benches of the two sides, and both seemed keen to take the game to their opponents.
Antic's Serbia had the first effort in the first 15 seconds when Marko Pantelic fizzed a 30-yard thunderbolt not too far wide.
However, despite the best intentions of both sides, neither goalkeeper was seriously threatened in the first half.
Four-time African champions Ghana looked the more dangerous of the two, but they failed to find the target with their two best opportunities.
The first saw Gyan curl a free-kick over from a dangerous position on the edge of the box, then captain John Mensah failed to get a decent connection on a header from a free-kick seven yards out.
Serbia's main threat before the break came from a couple of well-worked set-piece routines, neither featuring the anticipated high ball into the area looking for the head of giant striker Nikola Zigic.
The first saw one training-ground routine pick out the unmarked Pantelic inside the area, but poor control let him down and Ghana could breathe again.
The second saw left-back Aleksandar Kolarov opt to go for goal from 30 yards out and the reported Real Madrid target, like Pantelic in the first minute, was not far away from finding the top corner with a well-struck shot.
The first opportunity of the second half should have resulted in the game's opening goal - but Andre Ayew headed wide.
Prince Tagoe's cross from the right cleared Serbia centre-back Nemanja Vidic and fell perfectly for Ayew at the far post, but his downward header went wide.
Moments later at the other end Zigic missed a similarly gilt-edged chance for Serbia.
Pantelic's cross into the middle picked out his strike partner but the 6ft 7in forward completely miscued his volley from six yards out.
That was probably a better opening than Ayew's, and Ghana almost made Zigic pay for his profligacy by nearly taking the lead in the 60th minute.
Gyan climbed above Vidic to reach a long throw-in into the area, and the Rennes player was unfortunate to see his header hit the outside of the near post.
The introduction of experienced midfielder Stephen Appiah in the 72nd minute was well received by the noisy and sizeable contingent of Ghana fans, and they were given further cause for hope two minutes later when Serbia lost Lukovic to a red card.
Lukovic, who had been booked at the start of the period, was shown a second yellow card after pulling back Gyan.
Despite the setback Serbia looked the more dangerous side over the next five minutes. Milos Krasic brought a fine block out of Kingson, Vidic headed over from a corner and Branislav Ivanovic fired over as well.
Ghana survived that spell though, and in the 84th minute they were handed the chance to take the game when Kuzmanovic was adjudged to have handled a cross into the area, earning Rajevac's side a penalty.
Kuzmanovic protested his innocence but the decision stood and Gyan stepped up to slam his spot-kick past Stojkovic, to the delight of the Ghana fans.
Kuzmanovic had a chance to make amends soon after but he blazed over, while man of the match Gyan could have added a second late on but his shot rebounded back off the post.
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