Ghana give Capello cause for concern with win over Serbia
Serbia 0 Ghana 1
Ghana, who drenched their goalkeeper with water and carried their national flag around the pitch after the first African win of the tournament, will wake up this morning and discover that they have not won the World Cup after all but a last 16 berth, quite possibly against England, looks highly likely – which is just one more minor anxiety amid Fabio Capello's miscellany of injury worries.
There was an element of good fortune about the Ghanaians' win: it was six minutes from time when substitute Zdravko Kuzmanovic inexplicably decided to play volleyball with a cross. But the Africans were the dominant side; a fast and uninhibited force – albeit one without a dangerous striker – with a far more organised defence than we have seen from the other African nations.
There has been a breeziness about the Ghanaians for the past week which suggest they are far more uninhibited than England. They didn't like their team hotel so upped sticks, becoming the only nation with a base anywhere near the English. Their first open training session, close to Sun City, developed into something of an open house last Thursday when the few press who turned up found themselves free to wonder around near the dressing rooms. Shelley Muntari, now of Internazionale, was stopped and told, much to his surprise, that Rafael Benitez is his new manager. It's not quite how a nervous and introspective Steven Gerrard took the same piece of news during the last World Cup.
That unencumbered spirit was poured into the same enterprising football which took Ghana to the African Nations Cup final in January. The pre-tournament talk was of Muntari and Michael Essien being the only players who might provide something to fear in Ghana but Essien is out of the tournament, Muntari was on the bench and the name which may be scrawled in marker pen on one of Capello's flip charts in a week's time might well be Andrew Ayew.
The 22-year-old was a teenage prodigy at Marseilles and has been drifting around the French lower leagues for some time, yet he disproved the notion that a team of Nemanja Vidic's compatriots will, in an abbreviated form of the Old Trafford anthem "murder yer". Ayew ripped down the Ghana left with pace and fine close control while Vidic delivered a performance which suggested that his current club dilemmas are affecting him. Vidic was twice badly deceived by teasing crosses, one of which the zippy striker Asamoah Gyan conspired to head against a post when he had time to put his side ahead.
Even in these days of squad numbers, it's never terribly encouraging to see the No 3 up at centre forward and there were times when Gyan looked like he might have strayed 60 yards into the wrong part of the pitch. He said at hat training session last week that he aspires to play for Manchester United but he does not look like a striker to keep John Terry and Jamie Carragher awake at night – if they and England are still around to make a last 16 match 12 days from now. Portsmouth's Kevin Prince Boateng and Kwadwo Asamoah, of Udinese, are a cause for concern though, forming an incisive creative nexus with Ayew, backed up by that highly organised defensive unit.
Serbia, who are now relying on taking some change out of Germany or Ghana faltering, were not helped by defender Aleksander Lukovic's red card for a second bookable offence on 74 minutes or the penalty, which Gyan converted with aplomb. But Radomir Antic's side were a disappointment, offering none of the ravishing wing play we had been led to expect from Milan Jovanovic (soon to be of Liverpool) and Milos Krasic.
One neat set-piece for England to watch out for if Serbia improve has Dejan Stankovic running and feinting to strike the ball before leaving it to Aleksandar Kolorav. Wigan's third- string goalkeeper Richard Kingson earned his Ghanaian drenching with a fine save from Krasic towards the end but the Serbians' main target was the 6ft 7in striker Nikola Zigic. Another one for the Capello marker board on size alone. England's going is not getting easier any time soon.
Serbia (4-4-2): Stojkovic; Ivanovic, Lukovic, Vidic, Kolarov; Krasic, Milijas (Kuzmanovic , 63), Stankovic, Jovanovic (Subotic, 77); Pantelic, Zigic (Lazovic, 70).
Ghana (4-2-3-1): Kingson; Pantsil, Vorsah, Mensah, Sarpei; Annan, Boateng (Addy, 90); Tagoe, Asamoah (Appiah, 73), Ayew; Gyan (Owusu-Abeyie, 90).
Referee: H Baldassi (Argentina).