Some random observations after the third group fixtures:
Australia 2-1 Serbia: This was an up-tempo game with both teams pushing aggressively up field and taking shots from everywhere. Milos Krasic got loose on a long ball behind the Aussie defense and with the goalie way out to challenge him, he pushed the ball around the goalie and fired a shot over the near post. Serbia should have been on the board there and Krasic would have have been better served controlling the ball after beating the goalie on the dribble as he would have had all kinds of time to deliver a more balanced shot at an open goal. Mark Schwarzer made a brilliant save on Branislav Ivanovic’s point blank half-volley from just a few yards out. Lots of excitement in the first half, but it was all near misses and good saves. The second half found the Aussies with renewed energy and they started consistently applying pressure in the final third. Socceroo star Tim Cahill finally put a header past the goalie to put Australia in the lead. Cahill is one of the best in the world at scoring with his head and his header was perfectly placed. Minutes later, Brett Holman unleashed one from 30 yards out to the bottom left of the goal. The Serbian goalie looked like he got a late jump on his dive and he clearly was not expecting a shot from that distance. With the two-goal lead, the Aussies brought on another striker for a defender obviously realizing that their only hope for advancement was to score more to obtain a tiebreaker advantage. After the second goal, the Serbians woke up and realized they were about to be drummed out of the Cup and played with some renewed vigor. Schwarzer could not control the short hop on a long shot and Marko Pantelic pounced on the rebound for the goal. The Serbs continued swarming on offense and fired more shots in the last ten minutes than they had for the prior 80. Good no call by the referee on a handball in his own box by Cahill on a corner. There clearly was no intent on Cahill’s part as the ball went off a Serbian behind him and hit the back of his arm. Despite the flurry at the end, Serbia could not find the evener. Despite the win, the Socceroos lost the tiebreaker and did not advance. If the Serbs had merely managed a tie, they would have advanced. With the loss, the team most expected to advance out of the group with Germany ends up in last place in the group.
Ghana 0-1 Germany: The Germans entered the game in the unfamiliar position of likely needing to win to advance (that is until Serbia managed to lose to the Aussies playing simultaneously). However, early on, Germany played cautiously looking for the counterattack while Ghana pushed its attack. Ten minutes in, Black Stars goalie Richard Kingson was forced to make a good save when his own defender John Mensah poorly cleared a Lukas Podolski cross nearly into the goal. Both teams began really working the flanks for good opportunities. Germany shook off its early tentativeness and the game became a very entertaining back and forth with both teams playing up-tempo and switching up the attack side-to-side well. German forward Mesut Ozil broke in alone at the goalie, but Kingson made a great one-on-one save on the shot as he came out to challenge Ozil. On a corner at the other end, Gyan flicked a header toward the back post, but Philipp Lahm was stationed there to deny it. Both teams impressed in the first half and both are fortunate not to have given up a goal. 15 minutes into the second half, Ozil made up for his earlier failure by rocketing a 25-yard shot into the upper left corner of the goal. The last minutes of the game were played with a lack of urgency by both teams as they surely realized both would be advancing because of what was going on in the Serbia-Australia game. Refreshing to see a game with both teams playing aggressively for most of the game and both squads deservedly advanced out of the group. Nonetheless, given how many great opportunities each team had, both should be concerned about their inability to finish. The Black Stars in particular only scored two goals in their three group games and both were on penalty kicks. The Germans will be glad to get Miroslav Klose back as no one stepped up to replace his goal scoring after he got red-carded in their game against Serbia.
Some random observations after the second group fixtures:
Germany 0-1 Serbia: This is ugly game, largely because of the referee‘s itchy trigger finger. Lots of yellow cards issued, few appear to be deserved. The referee seemingly books any player, no matter how small the contact and regardless of intent. Miroslav Klose got tossed on a second yellow card in just the 36th minute. Again, the foul was minor and undeserving of a card. The Serbs immediately took advantage on a good cross to the far post and a header back to the middle of the box where Milan Jovanovic was all alone and fired it past the goalie. The Germans were in a funk with the man disadvantage, but got a couple of excellent opportunities in first half stoppage time on Sami Khedira’s blast off the crossbar and Thomas Muller’s follow-up bicycle kick that was stopped by a Serbian defender at the goal line. That and the Serbian goal were the only real excitement of the first half, particularly with the referee booking everyone in sight. The Germans came out really aggressive in the second half, controlling the ball so well, it was hard to believe that they were a man down. They created several excellent scoring opportunities, but Lukas Podolski was destined to be the goat after shooting wide all day and failing on a weak penalty kick. Germany had trouble all day putting shots on goal, after peppering the Australian goalie continually in their first fixture. Serbia did a little better putting shots on goal, but played very defensively after their goal and only managed a few opportunities on the counterattack. The referee apparently got a message not to issue so many yellow cards as worse fouls in the second half did not get booked. Even before Klose got thrown out, the Germans did not look like the same team that dominated Australia and was the best team in the first fixtures. A tie or loss in their third fixture against Ghana would likely result in the Germans unthinkably being eliminated at the group stage. They will play that game without Klose, who will serve a suspension after the two yellow cards in this match. Klose is one of the best finishers in German history and without him, nobody else could put a good shot on goal. Someone else will have to step up against Ghana. Serbia is in a good position to advance as they face the weak Socceroos in their last group fixture.
Ghana 1-1 Australia: After failing to take advantage of their few opportunities against Germany, the Aussies struck first early when Ghanian goalie Richard Kingson mishandled a short hop on a direct kick leading to an easy goal by Brett Holman. Seems like there has been more goalie error in this Cup than usual. Ghana got a penalty kick because of a handball at the goal line by Harry Kewell, who also got tossed. The red card was excessive as Kewell was not attempting to use his arm to block the shot, but simply had no time to react to the shot. Asamoah Gyan easily converted the penalty kick, but it was some brilliant dribbling by Andre Ayew that brought the sequence about as he beat two defenders deep on the right wing before making the cross that led to the shot and handball. With the man advantage, the Black Stars pushed relentlessly and controlled the midfield, but they lacked vision and creativity in the final third and couldn’t penetrate the Aussie defense for good shots. Ghana was forced to resort largely to long shots and its clear that they miss Michael Essien‘s ability to control the midfield. Their youth and inexperience in the back may get exploited by Germany in the next fixture. Good to see Aussie coach Pym Verbeek go for it toward the end despite the man disadvantage by bringing in two strikers at the expense of his midfield even if he didn’t get the hoped for result. Ghana can advance with a win or tie against the Germans, but will need a better defensive effort even against a German attack that will be without their top scorer and need to find someone who can create better shots. The Socceroos remote chance at advancement depends on a win over Serbia and a German loss to Ghana, but you have to like how they handled the loss of Kewell and played a solid defensive effort that earned them a point in this fixture.
Some random observations after the first group fixtures:
Ghana 1-0 Serbia: No real caution in this game as both teams looked to get forward. Serbia trusted their height and defense; Ghana trusted their athleticism and speed. Ghana looked sharper in the final third, but the Serbian backline got physical (Nemanja Vidic really is that good). When Serbia got into the final third, Ghana used their quickness to cut off the passing lanes and get in front of shots. Better scoring opportunities for both sides in the second half, where both teams really opened things up and stretched the field. Considering how much scoring both sides did in qualifying the finishing was decidedly disappointing. I don’t think Lukovic deserved a second yellow on a 50-50 ball; a warning would have been enough. A number backline mental lapses almost sent Ghana down on a few occasions, but the keeper came up big. You just kind of knew a fatal error was going to cost somebody; A Kuzmanovic handball in the box gave Ghana a penalty that Asamoah Gyan had no trouble converting. Have to give it to Serbia; they furiously tried to get forward with long balls into the box to get back that goal. A surprisingly exciting fixture that belies the final score.
Germany 4-0 Australia: Obviously Joachim Low has kept Jurgen Klinsmann’s attacking approach. It took all of 7 minutes for Germany’s furious attack to get Lukas Podolski on the scoreboard from the left wing. Early on Germany displayed their ability to get shots on target by anybody and from anywhere. For most of the game the Australian attack stalled at midfield; Germany did a much better job of controlling the midfield than their opponents. Australia was getting into the German penalty area but not in numbers, so Tim Cahill and Jason Culina weren’t really getting any support. Wonderful wing play from Germany, who were taking great advantage of width ad providing accurate crosses into the box to the strikers, as evidenced by Philip Lahm’s cross into Miroslav Klose for their second goal. Definitely a late tackle by Tim Cahill but certainly not worth a red card, which basically made any comeback aspirations by Australia impossible. 68th minute goal by Tomas Mueller was a perfect example of how creative, complete and sustained the German attack was all game long. Brazilian-born striker Cacau was on the pitch for all of three minutes before taking advantage of that confident German attack against a dispirited opponent, scoring on a cross. By far the most cohesive, comprehensive and complete performance by a side in this tournament so far.