Ghana, Africa's last hope, enter final 16 | sports | Hindustan Times
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Ghana, Africa's last hope, enter final 16

sports Updated: Jun 24, 2010 15:28 IST

Ghana became the only African team from the original six to qualify for the knockout stage of the World Cup despite going down 1-0 to Germany at Soccer City in Johannesburg on Wednesday night.

The Black Stars had Australia to thank after the Socceroos beat Serbia 2-1 at Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit, leaving Ghana safe in second place in Group D. Ghana will now take on the United States, the winners of Group C, in the round of 16 matches at Rustenburg’s Royal Bafokeng Stadium on June 26.

Germany, who topped Group D with six points -- despite losing to Serbia 1-0 -- will play England in Bloemfontein a day later.

Ghana captain John Mensah said he was proud of his men: "We started the game well, but then [Germany] took the lead and after that everything turned upside down, but we managed to keep our discipline."

Mensah added that that the match against the United States, another doggedly physical team that never gives up, "was not going to be easy".

A 59th minute strike by man-of-the-match Mesut Oezil separated the two teams in a match that was both tactical and tight.

Oezil’s goal came after a period of sustained pressure by the Germans. The Werder Bremen playmaker, collecting a pass from the right flank just outside the Ghana penalty box, struck sweetly past an unsighted Richard Kingson in goals.

The match started testily with both sides not giving much away. After an exchange of half-chances, the match became more exciting after 15 minutes.

In the 20th minute Germany right-back Philipp Lahm broke forward from defence on a scintillating run that saw him exchange a swift one-two with striker Cacau that unsettled the Ghana defence enough to allow him into the box. The Ghanaian defence desperately managed to close the German captain down and shepherd the ball out.

Three minutes later Ghana midfielder Kevin Prince Boateng, whose brother Jerome was playing left-back for Germany -- the first instance at a World Cup finals where brothers have faced one another in the same match -- broke free in the box, but his shot was smothered by Germany keeper Manuel Neuer.

Then, in the 25th minute, Asamoah Gyan’s header from a corner was cleared off the line.

By this stage Germany were playing fluidly with their midfielders constantly shifting positions, especially when attacking. Oezil and the versatile and tireless Sami Khedira especially moved forward as often as possible
in an attempt to unsettle Ghana's defence.

But Ghana, despite looking technically fragile at moments, remained calm and organised. One of the strengths of this Ghanaian team is that they press high up on the pitch when not in possession of the ball.
This, especially, makes them hard to break down.

Ghana’s Boateng is also looking increasingly likely to be instrumental in the success of the Black Stars's cup run. The number 23, who plies his trade in England with debt-ravaged Portsmouth, and must think this tournament an ideal opportunity to showcase his talent to new employers, is strong in the tackle, technically sound and creatively astute.

His presence has limited the feeling of loss Ghana must have felt when Micheal Essien’s injury problems ruled him out of the World Cup.