Asamoah Gyan scored an 85th-minute penalty Sunday to help Ghana to a 1-0 victory over Serbia and the first win by an African team at this World Cup.
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Gyan sent the spot kick high into the net for the only goal at Loftus Versfeld after Ghana had missed a series of headed chances. The Ghanaians earned the penalty when Zdravko Kuzmanovic handled a cross in the area.
"This is all I have worked for," Gyan said, "and to be man of the match, it is fantastic."
After the final whistle, the Ghanaians ran across the field in celebration, some carrying national flags to receive the applause of a crowd which had almost made them the home team.
"Every African is behind us," Gyan said. "I salute all you guys. We win this match for you."
Stephen Appiah said Ghana received support from the South African fans.
"That’s what you’re seeing," Appiah said. "This is the first time the World Cup is held in Africa, and all Africa is united."
Ghana achieved the victory despite the absence of the nation’s best player, Michael Essien, who was ruled out of the World Cup with a long term right knee problem.
John Mensah and Gyan missed the target earlier, and Dede Ayew headed against the post. Serbia’s only real threat near the end was a shot by Milos Krasic that was brilliantly saved by goalkeeper Richard Kingson.
The Serbs had Aleksandar Lukovic sent off in the 74th minute for a second yellow card.
"For sure, this is a big blow for us. To start a World Cup with a defeat is a bad thing," Serbia coach Radomir Antic said. "We will use all our energy to be positive when preparing for the next game (against Germany on June 18)."
Serbia defender Nemanja Vidic said the handball may have resulted from the wayward flight of the World Cup ball, which was strongly criticized by players ahead of the competition for changing direction.
"I think that many players say this ball is not so easy to control," the center back said. "I think more in the air than the feet. I think all teams have problems with the long balls and crosses. The ball moves a little bit different. But it was the same for them and for us."
Ghana, the only African team to reach the last 16 at the 2006 World Cup in Germany, had the vast majority of the support among the South Africans in the stadium. The fast-moving Ghanaians created more chances and should have been ahead by halftime.
Mensah headed a free kick wide of the far post and Gyan failed to reach a left wing cross by Kevin-Prince Boateng as the Serb defense failed to deal with well-directed balls into the middle.
Defender Aleksander Korolov produced the first danger to the Ghanaians with a 30-meter (yard) free kick that sailed wide and Kingson fumbled another long range drive by Dejan Stankovic.
But they made little use of the height of 2.03 meter (6-foot-8) striker Nikola Zigic, who went off in the middle of the second half after making little impact.
Ghana created another headed chance from a cross when Ayew got clear of the defenders in the 54th minute but headed wide of the far post with only the goalkeeper to beat. Then, a glancing header by Gyan flicked outside of the near post.
The Serbs finally got close in the 79th when Marko Pantelic left the ball to Krasic, whose first time left-footer was acrobatically pushed over the bar by Kingson. From the corner, Nemanja Vidic headed over.
In injury time, Gyan almost made it 2-0 but Gyan hit the post after a burst down the left.
Serbia: Vladimir Stojkovic, Aleksandar Kolarov, Nemanja Vidic, Branislav Ivanovic, Marko Pantelic (Neven Subotic, 76), Dejan Stankovic, Aleksandar Lukovic, Milan Jovanovic, Nikola Zigic (Danko Lazovic, 70), Milos Krasic, Nenad Milijas (Zdravko Kuzmanovic, 61).
Ghana: Richard Kingson, Hans Adu Sarpei, John Pantsil, John Mensah, Isaac Vorsah, Anthony Annan, Dede Ayew, Asamoah Gyan (Quincy Owusu-Abeyie, 90), Kevin-Prince Boateng (Lee Addey, 90), Prince Tagoe, Kwado Asamoah (Stephen Appiah, 72).