Day three of the 2010 FIFA World Cup was sure not to disappoint, with the rest of Group C opening up their match schedule along with a full slate of Group D action.
Slovenia and Algeria squared off in the Sunday icebreaker, with an open match expected, due to the opportunity to take a lead in the group following yesterday’s USA-England draw.
Serbia and Ghana started Group D off with what many expected to be the most crucial match of the group, as the possible winner would be in great shape to claim one of the advancing spots in Group D.
The third and final match of the day would unveil an international powerhouse when the Germans looked to start their campaign off in superior fashion against Australia.
SLOVENIA ( Koren 79 ) 1-0 ALGERIA
Peter Mokaba Stadium hosted this Group C match that excited the supporters of both of these nations, due to the great opportunity to take the bull by the horns in Group C.
Algeria tested Slovenia’s goalkeeper Samir Handanovic early on with a third minute free kick by the live left footed Nadir Belhadj. Handanovic was up to the task though, as he tipped the sharp effort over the bar properly.
The first half was much tighter than expected, with both sides keen to keep their organization and prevent any sort of penetration by their opponent’s attack. Both sides struggled to string together multiple consecutive passes in the attack, due to the combination of nerves and a slick new surface.
Algeria’s best chance of the half came in the 36th minute when defender Rafik Halliche aggressively attacked the ball in Slovenia’s area, bouncing his header just wide of the target from the corner delivery.
Slovenia’s best effort also came late in the half in the 43rd minute, when their No. 10 Valter Birsa stung a sharp left footed effort from about 25 yards out that Algeria keeper Faouzi Chaouchi palmed over the bar, entering himself as a nominee for save of the day.
The second half began noticeably more open with the teams clearly more aggressive in the attack. Errant crosses and final balls continued to frustrate each side’s attacks, though.
This match was hardly a spectacle for the casual fan, but the action was soon to come.
Algerian substitute Abdelkadar Ghezzal had a dismal and costly performance for his nation. Seconds into his appearance, he was booked for an obvious shirt tug and despite showing as a threat in the area, things would only get worse in the near future.
The 73rd minute was on the clock and Ghezzal was sent a long ball into the area that was out of reach for his feet, so he stretched his arm out and deliberately brought down the ball in a blatantly illegal fashion. Without hesitation, the referee showed Ghezzal his second yellow card and off he went with a red, leaving his nation a man down with twenty minutes to play.
It may have been harsh to be shown off at the World Cup for these “minor infractions," but there's no excuse for such calculated foolishness.
Slovenia managed to benefit from the man advantage in the 79th minute when midfielder Robert Koren had an opening from just outside the area and he gave it a go on net. Clearly going for accuracy, Koren’s attempt, though lacking pace, skipped off the keeper’s arm and into the back of the net to give Slovenia the coveted 1-0 lead.
Chaouchi was clearly at fault for this one, as he had time to get in front of the shot and should have easily parried away the effort. But this just adds to the collection of soft Group C goals in the first matches of action, as the mistake is only a runner-up to Green’s gaffe from last night.
Slovenia was then able to hold their ground and survive a minor scare in stoppage time from the Algerians to hold on for the critical 1-0 victory, receiving a full three points.
Slovenia’s performance might not have blown anyone out of their chair, but they held tight in defence, got the man advantage, and scored the soft lone goal necessary to see themselves atop their group for the time being.
Algeria’s World Cup hopes were dealt a serious blow with this avoidable defeat to Slovenia. The red card and keeper’s mistake puts them all alone at the bottom of the group with two more difficult matches to follow in England and USA.
Men of the Match-
Slovenia- Robert Koren
Algeria- Nadir Belhadj
SERBIA 0-1 GHANA ( Gyan 84 )
Group D’s action began in Loftus Versfeld Stadium with a crucial match between European side Serbia, appearing in their first World Cup as an independent nation, and a youthful African side in Ghana.
There was a quick start to this match with both sides letting long ranged efforts go, seconds into action.
Both sides were keen to show their skills, but Ghana looked the likelier side to score, teasing their supporters with some dangerous balls into their opponent’s area.
The match slowed down in the middle minutes of the first half with the majority of the action in the middle of the pitch.
Serbia got a couple of half-chances of their own in the later portion of the first half, but nothing that seriously concerned Ghana.
It was scoreless at the half with both nations assuring the promise of more creative attack in the second half.
In the 54th minute, Ghanaian attacking midfielder Prince Tagoe sent a picture perfect ball across the area to the backpost for Andre Ayew whose leaping header was sent off target.
In the 59th minute, the tall Serbian striker Nikola Zigic made his run to the backpost where a precise ball from midfielder Marko Pantelic was placed, only to botch the finish, as his sidefooted attempt was almost a whiff with the ball coming off his heel. The defender's stretched out boot looked to have been just enough to distract Zigic’s concentration on the chance that the striker needed to finish off on a stage like the World Cup.
In the 60th minute, Asamoah Gyan did his best to put power behind a headed effort off a deep throw-in, only for it to hit the outside of the post and bounce out of play.
Ghana kept up the pressure a minute later, when a dangerous cross was sent in from the left side, only for the awaiting Tagoe to sidefoot his effort wide.
Serbia was dealt a blow in the 74th minute, reminiscent of our first match of the day. This time it was defender Aleksander Lukovic, who was shown a second yellow card and given his marching orders after he grabbed hold of Ghana’s Asamoah Gyan’s arm when he was caught out of position, in order to prevent a break for Ghana.
Clearly an infraction that is worthy of a yellow card, but a borderline judgment call for the referee to show a second yellow on such a play, especially with fellow defender Nemanja Vidic back behind the infraction likely to intervene the play.
Ironically, the red card gave Serbia a boost in energy and overall play, as in the 79th minute they had their best chance of the match when a ball was sent in from the left side by Danko Lazovic, only for Pantelic to basically whiff on his effort.
But an on running Milos Krasic would do no such thing, drilling his effort on goal, but directly at Ghana goalkeeper Richard Kingson, who pushed the shot away. Serbian defender Vidic would then head his effort over the bar on the ensuing corner kick.
Serbia kept the heat on, playing a man down when defender Branislov Ivanovic joined the attack, streaking up the right side and ripping a blast just high and wide of the goal.
As quick as Serbia boosted up a notch, they were knocked down just as fast when defender Zdravko Kuzmanovic was called for a handball in the box, awarding Ghana with a penalty kick in the 83rd minute. Asamoah Gyan stepped up to the spot and blasted home the kick to surge Ghana to a 1-0 lead with just minutes to play.
Kuzmanovic made an inexcusable error on the cross, as he must have been worried about a waiting Boateng, who was set to be on the other end of the cross until the defender carelessly threw his arm in the air to intervene the cross and clearly play the ball with his hand. It would have been a tough finish without the infraction and the way the finishing was going in the match, it would have been unlikely for a goal to come of it.
So all in all, an awful mistake by the defender.
Gyan had a clear chance to double his tally in the 92nd minute, but his sidefooted effort off the angle in the area clanked off the inside of the post.
At the final whistle, Ghana was victorious 1-0 over Serbia and gathered a full three points.
Serbia will be distraught with the defeat, as they held their ground and played as anticipated until the unexpected expulsion set them into scramble mode. At first, the scrambling looked to have a positive influence, but the frantic pace didn’t fare so well in the defence, as proven in the mistake by Kuzmanovic.
Serbia’s Zigic was a disappointment and they will claim that they left multiple goals on the pitch, thanks to their poor finishing. Serbia will now have to look forward to their next match against Germany where they will have to prevent this negative outcome from snowballing into a complete disaster.
Ghana will be ecstatic with the victory and place atop the group. They may have had their own troubles in the finishing department too, but their pressure forced their opponents into two foolish decisions that were enough to award them the win.
The midfield will only get better with more involvement from Stephen Appiah and Sulley Muntari sure to come, as this young Ghana squad’s confidence is sure to rise along with their experience. The defence also did extremely well to frustrate Zigic and put together a solid workmanlike performance as a group.
Men of the Match-
Serbia- Nemanja Vidic
Ghana- Prince Tagoe
GERMANY ( Podolski 8, Klose 26, Muller 67, Cacau 70 ) 4-0 AUSTRALIA
The pressure was on for these two nations who squared up in the last match of the night in Moses Mabhida Stadium. Both of them were looking up at a Ghana squad who collected a full three points in the previous match.
Australia pushed forward early and almost got the opener immediately in the third minute when Australian defender Luke Wilkshire put in a corner where Tim Cahill’s header got blocked and Richard Garcia’s follow-up was blocked off the line by German captain Phillip Lahm.
But it would only go downhill after this positive start for the Australians.
Germany produced their first opportunity in the seventh minute, but striker Miroslav Klose fired right at Australian goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer and Mesut Ozil’s rebound was deflected for a corner.
Seconds later, Germany broke through in style when Ozil fed Thomas Muller who grounded a pass across the area to a charging Lukas Podolski who promptly smashed a left footed blast off the keeper’s glove and in to give Germany a 1-0 lead.
Germany looked sure to double their lead in the 24th minute when Podolski squared a perfect ball into the area to a wide-open Klose who somehow blasted wide.
But it didn’t take long for Mirolsav Klose to make up for his miss, as in the 26th minute, the striker latched onto a deep cross from Lahm. Klose beat the goalkeeper to the spot and caught him in no-man’s-land, heading into the empty net and giving the Germans a 2-0 lead.
In the 31st minute Ozil was sent in on goal from the angle on a throughball from Klose, but a bad first touch cost the youngster, as he could only afford to try to scoop his effort over a charging Schwarzer. But defender Lucas Neill cleared it before it could bounce to the goal.
The German defence was as organized as ever, as aside from the early third minute scare, they prevented Australia from creating any type of effective attack.
The second half began like the first, with Australian attack, and it almost paid off immediately when they had legitimate penalty claims in the 48th minute, when a headed effort towards the goal struck the arm of German defender Per Mertesacker. 50-50 call that I feel the referee made the right decision on by not awarding a penalty.
The Germans almost tacked on a third goal in the 53rd minute when Lahm worked a one-two with Khedira and cut a cross back to the top of the area where Ozil dummied brilliantly for a ripped shot just over the target by Muller.
It continued to get much worse in the 56th minute for Australia when Tim Cahill, clearly frustrated by the run of play, went in from behind with no play on the ball to cut down German midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger. The referee went to the back pocket with no hesitation and delivered the first straight red card of the tournament.
Looking at the replay, a red was extremely harsh; Cahill seemed to hold back once he realized what he was doing. A yellow would have been the proper punishment, but you expect more from the out of control veteran.
The Germans almost hit on a third again in the 60th minute when Miroslav Klose spun into the area and was denied by a sliding Scwartzer. He then gathered the rebound and slid a pass across for Khedira who couldn’t latch on to the pass to tap into the empty net with a defender coming quick at his back and making some contact.
In the 66th minute, Podolski and Klose worked a sharp one-two into the area and then Podolski fired in a ferocious cross that Klose could only direct wide of the target, as the Australian supporters shook their heads in disappointment.
In the 68th minute, Podolski took possession at the sideline and dribbled all the way to the box before laying off in stride to a running Muller, who faked his defender into a slide and calmly fired across his body to the farpost in between Lucas Neill’s legs, off the woodwork and in, giving Germany the 3-0 lead.
The tally would hit four, two minutes later, when the fresh on the pitch substitute Cacau latched onto a squared ball near the penalty spot and easily slipped by Schwarzer. Badstuber started the break by sending Ozil behind the defence who routinely squared for Cacau and the assist.
At this point, Australia was completely overwhelmed and being dominated in all aspects all over the pitch.
At the final whistle, it was Germany claiming the dominant victory 4-0 over a dismantled Australia side.
Germany used their width very effectively with Podolski and Muller. And their knowledgeable off the ball runs consistently harassed the Socceroos’ defence. Ozil put his playmaking talent to display and penetrated and dissected the opposition with class and even Klose was able to snap out of his scoring funk by hitting the back of the net.
It couldn’t have gotten any better for Germany as they put on the best performance of the tournament thus far.
Australia will have to be embarrassed by their presentation on the night. They were completely outperformed and outworked all over the pitch. Even though they faced a world-class nation, much more was expected out of a normally physical competitive side. Instead, they gave up uncharacteristically and the score line is the proof.
Men of the Match-
Germany- Lukas Podolski
Australia- Lucas Neill
GOAL OF THE DAY— Lukas Podolski’s eighth minute gem of an opener for his German side. The left footed blast overpowered Schwarzer’s glove from just inside the area and probably would have been traveling well over the speed limit of your nearest highway.
SAVE OF THE DAY –Was made by the inconsistent Algerian keeper Faouzi Chaouchi, who palmed Slovenia’s Valter Birsa’s sharp left footed effort from about 25 yards out over the bar in the 43rd minute, when the score line read 0-0.
MISTAKE OF THE DAY –Candidates a plenty in today’s action for the dreaded category no player, manager, or referee wants to do with. From the Chaouchi error in net costing Algeria the match, to the foolish earned yellow cards by Algerian substitute Abdelkadar Ghezzal. The mistakes continued in the second match, this time punishing the Serbia side with defender Aleksander Lukovic foolishly earning a second yellow card for a blatant hold of an attacker’s arm, and even worse than that, a Zdravko Kuzmanovic handball that gave Ghana the penalty to hand Serbia the defeat.
CELEBRATION OF THE DAY –Robert Koren and the circle of dancing Slovenians whose arms lifted in unison in a fun-bunch type of celebration.
MATCH OF THE DAY – Germany-Australia
CONCLUSION- Germany opened their tournament in style, with a dominant, statement-making performance that has set a precedent. They sit atop Group D with African nation Ghana, who also took a big first step towards qualification for the second round with a late 1-0 win over Serbia.
Group C took an interesting turn when Slovenia found a late match-winner to grab control of their group and put the pressure on the favourites England and USA to perform in their next fixtures.
We also have learned that the referees are clearly going by the letter of the FIFA law in terms of dishing out yellow cards, with no concern whether it results in a sending off or not.