This was a win celebrated by an entire continent. “Every African is behind us,” Asamoah Gyan, the winning goalscorer, said afterwards. “We win this match for you.”
Despite a spirited performance full of pace and aggression, Ghana only secured this victory against the ten men of Serbia thanks to a penalty five minutes from time. Perhaps fooled by the bounce of the ball, substitute Zdravko Kuzmanovic missed a cross with his head but found it with an outstretched arm. It was a clear penalty and Gyan made no mistake, sending the keeper the wrong way from the spot.
The celebrations were long and almost as if Ghana had won the whole tournament; Gyan had a dance with his team mates, then a dance with the rest of the squad. Then a hug for the coaching staff. It was entirely understandable, the first win for an African team in the tournament thus far, and a release of the tension that had been building in a game Ghana should have had won long before.
In fact Ghana failed to register a single shot on target in a first half that they dominated. Theirs is a style of play built on pace: one of sharp movement and quick passing in possession, discipline and quick pressing without the ball. They looked dangerous until the final third where a poor final ball continually let them down and a defence marshalled by Nemanja Vidic was largely untroubled. Like South Africa and Algeria before them, you sensed the expectations of a continent wore heavy on Ghana’s shoulders.
Serbia were nervy. Tipped by many as the tournament’s dark horses they looked anything but, with the giant striker Nicola Zigic, recently signed by Birmingham City, guilty of repeated profligacy in front of goal. Milovan Rajevac, the Ghanain coach, is a Serb himself and might have been surprised to see his opponents so stodgy in possession.
Gyan came close to scoring on several occasions before his penalty finally gave Ghana the win they deserved, the Loftus Versfeld erupting in celebration as he did so. With Germany certain to top the group if they can maintain their early form, the significance of this three points cannot be underestimated. Serbia need to turn things around, and quickly: on this evidence Africa will have at least one team in the knockout stages and, if England rally and win their group, Ghana will fancy their chances.