This game sees us pass the halfway point of the group stages. By the end of Friday, we’ll have lost half of the teams, and we’ll know the shape of the knockout stages. Once we reach the knockout stages, most of the contrasting games (whether in ability, age or experience) will be over, and the main contrasts we’re likely to get between opponents are playing style and location. Ghana and Australia are as big a contrast as you can get. Australia are an aging team, with a wealth of experience. The nucleus of the squad is from the team that reached the last 16 in Germany, with six of them being aged 30 or over. Their youngest player on duty today is 25 year old Carl Valeri, with just three squad members being younger. Ghana on the other hand are a young team. Only Hans Sarpei (33), Richard Kingson (31) and John Paintsil (who turned 29 last Tuesday) are older than Valeri. Lee Addy, starting at centre half today, was born the day before the 1990 World Cup Final, and is five days older than his central defensive partner Jonathan Mensah. They replace John Mensah and Isaac Vorsah, the centre halves from the Serbia game, who are both carrying injuries, but John Mensah is named as a substitute. Unlike the commentators of the last generation, any description of Addy and Mesnah being naïve is hopefully going to be more to do with their age and lack of experience, rather than down to a lazy assumption that it’s because they’re African. They are both still eligible for the national Under 20 team, a level at which Ghana are the reigning World Champions. Two of today’s starters were in the winning U20 team in Cairo last year (Jonathan Mensah and Andre Ayew), as were Daniel Agyei, Samuel Inkoom and Dominic Adiyiah, who are on the bench today. Addy, and third choice keeper Stephen Ahorlu were eligible, but didn’t travel to Cairo. With all that said, if last Sunday’s games are anything to go by, this won’t be men against boys.
Inside two minutes we have a shout for a penalty, Harry Kewell beats Lee Addy, and there’s a tangle of legs. It’s an accidental collision, but Addy does bring Kewell down. It should be a penalty, but from the referee’s point of view, it’s not a call he can make. As if to prove how fragile this reserve Ghanaian defence is, Addy and Richard Kingson collide in their box, under no real pressure. Eleven minutes in, we have our first real action, and our first goal. Anthony Annan fouls Carl Valeri, and Australia have a free kick about 30 yards out. Mark Bresciano tried a speculative shot that bounces in front of keeper Richard Kingson. Kingson spills it, and Brett Holman is first to the rebound. The keeper gets a touch, but can’t stop it going in, and Australia take the lead. 1-0.
Ghana immediately try and restore parity, but all that comes from their two corners in the aftermath is an awkward landing from Mark Schwarzer, and a possible back injury, as he collides with John Paintsil. Andre Ayew tries a speculative shot, which deflects of Lucas Neill, and the only thing that comes of the resulting corner is a test for Schwarzer’s back. After 24 minutes, Ghana have their first real chance. Another corner comes in, Ayew ties Brett Emerton and Luke Wilkshire in knots, puts in a cross, and while it looks like Neill brings Gyan down, the ball rolls through to Jonathan Mensah (not Lyon’s John Mensah, who is on the bench) whose shot is blocked on the line by the upper arm of Harry Kewell. Rosetti has no choice but to award a penalty and send Kewell off. Kewell argues with the referee, and even suggests that the referee looks at it again on the big screen in the stadium, but all the replays do, are prove his guilt. Ghana have their second penalty of the tournament for handball, and like the one against Serbia, Asamoah Gyan dispatches it past the keeper, and it’s game on. 1-1.
The sending off and the goal should spark Ghana into life, but it takes time. Prince Tagoe hits the side netting, a free kick is headed over by Gyan, and a Craig Moore foul on Kwadwo Asamoah 25 yards out from goal produces a freekick, from which Kwadwo Asamoah can only find the wall. Australia have ideas, but on the rare occasion they create something, there is no-one there to execute it. Addy becomes the first player to be booked, not for the rash challenge on Bresciano, but because it’s the latest in a succession of fouls. Kevin-Prince Boateng produces Ghana’s best chance, when a run down the wing brings a great save out of Schwarzer, only for Rosetti to mystifyingly award a goal kick. An Ayew run into the box is broken up by Neill, who starts his own run upfield, but the counter breaks down, and Rosetti blows the whistle for half time.
The second half starts slowly. Gyan tests Mark Schwarzer with a shot from outside the area, which he parries and recovers. Paintsil tries the same, but he’s off balance, and it sails harmlessly wide. Ayew tries a cross, but Schwarzer claims it easily. Asamoah tries a shot which richochets against Jason Culina and lands harmlessly into the arms of Schwarzer. Ghana are being patient, maybe too patient, coach Milovan Rajevac sees this, and replaces Tagoe with Quincy Owusu-Abeyie. Ghana seem satisfied with trying long range shots, as though they expect to benefit from a deflection or a mistake from Schwarzer. Socceroos coach Pim Verbeek makes an attacking substitution, as Scott Chipperfield comes on for Mark Bresciano. Chipperfield almost makes an immediate impact, heading a Brett Emerton cross over the bar, with his first touch. Ghana get the message, and Gyan beats Schwarzer with a cross-shot hit just too hard, eluding Boateng at the far post. Verbeek makes a second attacking change, with goalscorer Holman making way for Josh Kennedy. It does the trick, as Australia take charge. Luke Wilkshire finds himself free on the edge of the area, and Kingson makes a good stop that rebounds to Kennedy, who heads it down and allows Kingson to make a routine, if acrobatic save. Ghana try and respond, which sees Lucas Neill challenge Gyan on the edge of the box. We don’t get a replay, but on first impression it looked like a dive.
The game is now end to end, with Australia creating the better space and chances. Sulley Muntari replaces Kwadwo Asamoah, as Ghana look to control the midfield more. Jonathan Mensah brings down Chipperfield 25 yards out, but Emerton wastes the chance. Paintsil finds himself free in acres of space in a rare foray forward, but the delivery reaches Owusu-Abeyie under pressure, when better options were waiting behind him. Scott Chipperfield trips himself up, under pressure from Anthony Annan, and Annan is penalised with a booking and a free kick, which goes nowhere. Moore also finds himself in the book for a foul on Muntari, and Rukavytsya replaces Luke Wilkshire, becoming Australia’s youngest player on the day. Matthew Amoah comes on for Ghana, replacing Boateng, Rukavytsya finds himself unmarked in the penalty area, but his challenge for a ball in the box is rightly given as a foul, as he makes more contact with Kingson than the ball, but Rosetti keeps his cards in his pocket on this occasion. Jonathan Mensah has a chance form a cros,s but he heads wide, and Ghana spend the three minutes of extra time pushing for a winner, and when a corner is cleared to Owusu-Abeyie, he has time to slip and recover, before firing in a shot that Schwarzer palms away for a corner. Muntari puts the chance from the resulting corner over and wide. The match ends on a sour note, however, as Addy, Paintsil and Kennedy challenge for a ball. No foul is committed, but Paintsil seems to clash heads with both players, and is knocked out, the challenge from Paintsil draws blood, and Paintsil is carried off. He recovers consciousness before he leaves the pitch, but he may find himself with a concussion for the next few days. It’s the last meaningful action, and Rosetti blows the whistle on a goalless but entertaining second half.
The teams may have contrasted in terms of age and experience, but this was another of a number of entertaining games in the second round of group games. Australia need to win on Wednesday, otherwise it will be the last hurrah for this group of players, but this is just the beginning for Ghana. The World Under-20 Champions don’t have a proven goalscorer at this level, but Dominic Adiyiah, who scored eight goals in seven games in Egypt, is in the squad and may get a run out. If he can step up, he may well be the last piece in the jigsaw of this side, and while they look promising and threatening in 2010, if the team can grow together, then in four years time, with Michael Essien at 32 years old, and maybe without Kingson and Sarpei, the average age of this squad will still be no older than 28, with most of the squad still being of an age where they can be effective in 2022, let alone 2014 and 2018. This may be well the Black Stars’ golden generation.
Thanks again to Historical Football Kits for the kind use of their graphics.