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World Cup: Ghana vs, Serbia: Black Stars win on penalty kick

June 13, 2010 |  9:18 am

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The first World Cup on African soil was meant to highlight the continent’s growth as a soccer power.

But it has also focused a spotlight on an area where Africa is lagging -- in the coaching ranks.

Although six of the 32 nations in this year’s tournament are from Africa, Algeria’s Rabah Saadane is the only coach who was born there.

In fact, Sunday’s Serbia-Ghana match alone had twice as many coaches from Yugoslavia, a country that no longer exists, as the entire World Cup has coaches from Africa

And that used to be a sore subject in Ghana, where fans were hoping a homegrown coach would get a chance to direct the national team when Frenchman Claude Le Roy quit two years ago.

Success often trumps national pride, however. And that has certainly been the case with the confident Black Stars, who held off a rugged Serbian team to win their World Cup opener, 1-0, on Asamoah Gyan’s penalty kick in the 84th minute..

Ghana was awarded the penalty after Argentine referee Hector Baldassi called Serbia’s Zdravko Kuzmanovic for a handball when the midfielder appeared to touch the ball accidentally while trying to head it away from Ghana’s Kevin Prince Boateng.

Kuzmanovic pleaded his case to no avail. And Gyan made him pay for the mistake, beating Serbian keeper Vladimir Stojkovic with a left-footed shot that just slipped under the crossbar.

Gyan nearly made it 2-0 in stoppage time, beating Stojkovic again. But his shot hit the goalpost on the right side.

Four years ago, in its World Cup debut, Ghana upset the U.S. in advancing to the second round. And under former Yugoslav Olympian Milovan Rajevac they’ve come to South Africa looking to do even better, with Inter Milan midfielder Sulley Muntari talking of a spot in the semifinals “or even further.”

But Rejvac’s team didn’t look a World Cup finalist Sunday. Weakened by the loss of star midfielder Michael Essien to a knee injury and with Muntari on the bench nursing a bad thigh, the Black Stars had trouble getting on the same page.

Despite their coach’s pedigree, the Stars play a decidedly African brand of soccer – freewheeling, creative and always on the attack. But at times it can be undisciplined as well, as it was for much of the afternoon against the more rigid Serbs.

Making its World Cup debut under the name Serbia, Coach Radomir Antic’s team qualified strongly, finishing atop a group that included France. But it managed little sustained offense against speedier Ghana.

But the Serbs had their chances, one coming in the 57th minute when a crossing pass when awry, costing them a shot at an open net.

Less than a minute later the counter-attacking Black Stars nearly made Serbia pay. But Gyan’s header off a throw-in from John Panstil missed wide right.

Serbia’s best opportunity came with about 10 minutes left in regulation when Marko Pantelic left a ball for an unmarked Milos Krasic inside the penalty box. But Krasic’s missile from straight out found nothing but the gloves of Ghana keeper Richard Kingson, who deflected the left-footed shot away.

Serbia played the final 15 minutes short-handed after defender Aleksander Lukovic was sent off with a red card following a play in which he hooked Gyan’s arm beneath his own and kept him from chasing down a loose ball..

--Kevin Baxter, reporting from Pretoria, South Africa

Photo: Ghana's John Pantsil waves his nation's flag as he celebrates a 1-0 victory over Serbia in a World Cup Group D match on Sunday in Pretoria, South Africa. Credit: Hassan Ammar / Associated Press:

For the record: An earlier version of this report referred to Ghana's injured star Michael Essien as Frank Essien.

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