Ghana delivers a win for Africa

June 13, 2010 12:00 am

, PRETORIA, Jun 13 –  Inspired by a sense of playing for all of Africa, Ghana\’s Black Stars became the first Africans to win a World Cup match on their home continent by downing Serbia 1-0 in their opener Sunday.

Asamoah Gyan blasted in a penalty kick in the 84th minute after a handball by Serbian Zdravko Kuzmanovic, then joined in a dance-filled team celebration that saw even a security guard hug Gyan.

"Everyone is happy, not only in Ghana but the whole of Africa," Gyan said. "I\’m so happy, not for Ghana winning but for an African team winning in the World Cup. It\’s not so easy.

"We knew all Africa would support us. I really drove off that."

Ghana coach Milovcan Rajevac, a Serbian, was excited his team could pull off the historic triumph after the hosts, Nigeria and Algeria had failed to bring Africa a World Cup triumph in South Africa.

"This was the first time the World Cup was held on African soil and so I\’m happy an African team beat a great European team and I\’m happy that the whole of Africa is pleased about this win," Rajevac said.

Ghana was the only African team to reach the round of 16 at the 2006 World Cup, losing to Brazil in the knockout stage, and the victory over Serbia boosted the Black Stars\’ chances to advance again in 2010.

"It was big for Africa. It means a lot. We showed we could beat them," said Ghana midfielder Andre Ayew.

"I don\’t know if this means we have arrived. Our dream is advancement."

While that dream is not yet secured, any notion that all six African teams might fail to advance on African soil seemed put to rest with the victory, Ghana captain John Mensah said.

"Forget what you have heard," Mensah said.

"We played with our hearts. We don\’t have to do anything else. It\’s beautiful. To win the first game out is very important. We\’re happy now. Tomorrow we will go back to working."

The Black Stars will need to train hard. Next up is a Saturday matchup with Group D rivals Australia at Rustenburg with the mighty Germans to follow.

For Gyan, patience was critical in beating Serbia, which in addition to the handball saw Aleksandar Lukovic red-carded after a second yellow card 10 minutes before Gyan\’s goal.

"We knew what the Serbians were going to do," Gyan said. "We were patient and waited for them to make mistakes and that\’s what happened.

"It\’s not the first time I have taken a penalty in front of a huge crowd. There was no pressure on me."

Gyan said his team gives defence a greater priority than in 2006 and that has been a key to success.

"Now we make sure we defend our goal before we attack," he said. "In 2006, we were attacking more without doing that."

Slovenia Vs Algeria

Earlier, Captain Robert Koren snatched the soft late goal that gave Slovenia a 1-0 victory over 10-man Algeria on Sunday and top place in Group C of the World Cup.

Goalkeeper Faouzi Chaouchi should have saved a curling shot from outside the penalty area on 79 minutes, but let it slip into the corner of the net soon after striker Abdelkader Ghezzal was sent off.

It was the first World Cup win for the East Europeans after three losses in their only previous appearance eight years ago and will offer hope ahead of tougher assignments against the United States and England.

Among the crowd at the 46,000-seat Peter Mokaba Stadium in this northern city was former superstar Zinedine Zidane, born in Marseille to Algerian parents and a World Cup winner with France 12 years ago.

Warm, clear conditions greeted the outsiders in a mini-league pundits believe will be dominated by 1966 champions England and the USA, who drew 1-1 in Rustenburg the previous night.

A free kick in front of goal and outside the penalty area offered the North Africans the first chance and goalkeeper Samir Handanovic did well to tip over a Nadir Belhadj shot.

Chaouchi and Portsmouth midfielder Belhadj were fortunate starters for the \’Desert Foxes\’ as bans stemming from 2010 African Nations Cup red cards were dropped only this week by the African Football Confederation.

The early exchanges had a heavy imprint of caution with ball retention the first priority for teams who reached the tournament at the expense of world top-20 ranked teams Russia and Egypt.

Spectators blowing plastic vuvuzela horns were creating a distinct South African atmosphere in a match featuring plenty of neat passing but a paucity of goalmouth action.

Aleksander Radosavljevic was first to be cautioned after fouling Belhadj on 35 minutes and Slovenia had a scare soon after as a Rafik Halliche header off a corner went wide.

Chaouchi came to the rescue as half-time approached, acrobatically tipping over a dipping Valter Birsa shot as Slovenia moved up a couple of gears and also forced a couple of corners.

Hassan Yebda, a starter at the expense of off-form captain Yazid Mansouri and sporting peroxide blond hair, was at the heart of an impressive early second-half Algerian move that ended with a shot straight at Handanovic.

With no sign of a goal the coaches introduced new strikers, Ghezzal replacing Rafik Djebbour and Zlatan Ljubijankic coming on for Zlatko Dedic, whose goal eliminated Russia.

Halfway through the half and the game remained goalless although Italy-based Ghezzal was making an impact, getting on the end of several crosses only to be let down by high headers.

But the Algerian substitute did the \’Desert Foxes\’ no favours by getting sent off 17 minutes from full-time for a second yellow card after deliberately handling a cross.


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