There have been complaints about the vuvuzelas and the ball, but on the whole the standard of refereeing at this World Cup has been satisfactory. Not anymore. This was the first game decided almost exclusively by a referee, with a disgraceful first half performance in which he issued six yellow cards, two to the German striker Miroslav Klose.
The first card was soft, early, and set the tone. Klose went into the book within a quarter of an hour for tripping Branislav Ivanovic. His second was even less deserved, again a trip from behind, Klose staying on his feet in a genuine attempt to play the ball. In between referee Alberto Undiano Mallenco had booked four other players, two for each side. The Spanish referee had issued 11 red cards in 17 La Liga games last season and it was easy to see why. In mitigation the sending off turned a cagey match into a fascinating contest with almost immediate effect.
Two minutes later Milos Krasic broke down the right and sent a high, looping cross to the back post. The 6’7” Nikola Zigic had peeled away and the cross dropped right on his head, the new Birmingham City signing nodding back across goal for Milan Jovanovic to bundle home. Germany were stunned.
They had been comfortable before that, though nowhere near as much as they were when putting Australia to the sword last Sunday. Serbia had been disciplined, two narrow banks of four forcing Germany wide, confident that a defence containing Nemanja Vidic and Branislav Ivanovic was as well-equipped to deal with crosses as any team in the tournament.
Germany began the second half with Ozil pushed up to centre forward but it didn’t last long: this team needs its playmaker deeper than that and he soon dropped back in search of the ball. Lukas Podolski became the principal attacking threat and had three excellent chances before the biggest of them all went begging.
First he ran onto a long ball and thundered a shot across goal that ran for a goal kick. Then Ozil played him in with a sweet pass over the top of defence, but he fired wide. A fine move shortly after had half the stadium on its feet but he had lashed into the side netting. Podolski cut a frustrated figure but the worst was still to come.
Nemanja Vidic so liked the penalty Serbia conceded to Ghana last Sunday that he rather fancied a go at it himself. The Manchester United defender leapt after a cross with arms spread akimbo, like some desperate, flailing, drunken Superman, and just got his fingertips to the ball as it fell. It was a brilliant save but alas, quite a blatant penalty. Podolski stepped up and his shot was hard and low but far too central, and Stojkovic saved comfortably.
That was pretty much it for a Germany side that tired after playing with ten men for the best part of an hour. It is also worth noting that the 4-0 victory over Australia was played out in the most favourable of conditions – a cool night at sea level – and that the heat played its part here. Ozil faded badly and was replaced by Cacau and at that point the game just started to slip away from them.
The English reaction to a German loss should be one of cheer, but this defeat gives Ghana a chance of winning group D, raising the prospect of England and Germany meeting in the second round. Qualification remains in Serbia’s sights, though they will not find a referee like that in every game .