PRETORIA, June 13 (Reuters) – An 85th minute penalty by Asamoah Gyan gave Ghana a 1-0 win over Serbia and Africa its first victory of this World Cup finals on Sunday in a match which brought a true flavour of the continent to the tournament.A stadium more usually home to Springboks rugby matches was transformed into an authentic arena for Africa’s unique way of enjoying football – very noisy and very colourful.
The late winner for Ghana sent their fans, decked out in their striking national colours of green, yellow and red, into rapture and will significantly aid the team’s chances of progressing into the next round.
“This win gives us a boost of confidence for the next matches. But we are going to take it one at a time,” said midfielder Dede Ayew.
Ghana were backed by local South African, sounding vuvuzela trumpets in a coordinated rhythmic fashion, rather than the drone that has been heard at some of the earlier games.
If the opening game on Friday, was all about the national pride of South Africa, this was simply about a continent’s true football fans turning out to enjoy a game in the manner to which they are accustomed.
Ghana’s John Pantsil, who caused controversy at the last World Cup by celebrating a win by waving the Israeli flag, was the first to race to the crowd at the final whistle and grab a giant Ghana flag.
He sprinted around the field while the crowd in the stands tumbled around in delight and his team mates danced in the centre circle.
The memorable victory celebration came after a largely dull game which only came alive after Serbia were reduced to 10 men by the dismissal of Alekasandar Lukovic for a second yellow card in the 74th minute.
Down a man, the Serbs launched a series of attacks, as if suddenly awakening to the fact that they were about to pick up just a point from their opening game in a tough Group D which also includes Germany and Australia.
Milos Krasic had a fine effort palmed over and then Nemanja Vidic headed over from the resulting corner.
Branislav Ivanovic then went close with a long-range effort after bursting through from the right but Serbia will wish they had shown such adventure and aggression a little earlier.
“In a world cup, when you have two chances in a game you must score one goal,” Serbian striker Danko Lazovic said. “And we missed both.”
The breakthrough finally came at the other end — an unforced and unnecessary handball from substitute Zdravko Kuzmanovic, whose raised arm struck a ball hit across the area.
Gyan, who had missed a number of chances, seemed a risky choice for the spot kick, but he confidently drove past Vladimir Stojkovic to grab the lead.
With a goal under his belt, Gyan, who plays for Rennes in France, nearly added a second with a curling shot which struck the far post.
It was the second time Gyan had struck the woodwork — on the hour he had met a long throw with a leap and downward header which scraped the post.
The missed chances and the long stretches of the game where it was more entertaining to watch characters in the stand, including one with a cooking pot on his head, will be irrelevant though to the crowd.
The Ghanaians danced out of the stands, flags waving high and into the streets of what was once the political stronghold of the apartheid regime.