Germany took a narrow 1-0 victory over Ghana on a gorgeous night in Johannesburg's magnificent Soccer City Stadium. While the weather was a chilly 11 degrees Celsius upon kickoff, the game soon heated up.
The European side played a very aggressive attacking nature, allowing the Ghanaians to respond with swift counterattacks. Neither side managed to score before the half, but playmaker Mesut Oezil struck on the hour mark to lift the Germans to victory and a first place finish in Group D. Following Australia's defeat of Serbia, Ghana took second.
Having lost to Serbia in their second group match, the Germans faced a must-win scenario against Ghana. Nonetheless, coach Joachim Loew opted not to take a more aggressive stance than in previous matches, preferring his 4-2-3-1 shape rather over a multi-striker system. For the Germans, Cacau replaced suspended striker Miroslav Klose Loew replaced unimpressive left back Holger Badstuber with Jerome Boateng.
Ghana, by contrast, needed just a single point to advance to the Round of 16, and coach Milovan Rajevac chose his starting lineup accordingly. The Serbia native retained his conservative 4-2-3-1 formation, and made just one change to his starting XI: John Mensah replaced Lee Addy, joining his namesake, Jonathan Mensah, in central defence.
Ghana kicked off the match and took a direct path for goal, but Asamoah Ayew mis-hit his strike, which looped off target. That would prove to be a rare venture forward for the Black Stars, who played like group leaders: tentative in attack, and content to defend their point.
Early in the game, Germany controlled the lion's share of possession, with holding midfielder Sami Khedira and playmaker Mesut Oezil freely moving forward to join Cacau. Ghana were superbly organized in their defence, however, and the Germans found it extremely difficult to earn clear chances. Cacau often drifted wide, and with Ghana playing deep and Germany lacking a true center forward in the penalty area, were starved for scoring opportunities.
The Ghanaians used their pace to counterattack their overcommitting opponents, and instead it was they who earned the better chances on goal. The Ghanaian midfield was superbly industrious, and Gyan, Kevin-Prince Boateng, and Kwadwo Asamoah all did very well pressure the Germans deep and force counterattacks.
Only a heavy touch by Asamoah Gyan, misplaced ball from Kevin-Prince Boateng, solid defending from Arne Friedrich and aggressive goalkeeping from Manuel Neuer prevented the Black Stars from taking an early lead.
Germany were nearly gifted an own goal inside ten minutes, but goakeeper Richard Kingson reacted quickly to parry Lukas Podolski's deflected cross out for a corner. In the 25th minute, the increasingly influential Mesut Oezil was played through on goal, but the 21-year old was unable to finish as Kingson made a comfortable save.
Moments later, Ghana should have had a goal following a corner. Andre Ayew headed the set piece past goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, but Germany skipper Philipp Lahm cleared the shot off the goal line.
Midway through the first half, Ghana found their feet in midfield, and began to attack Germany more willingly, but like their opponents, were unable to make the final ball to produce a goal.
At the break, Loew was left to ponder his options to produce a goal, whereas Rajevac could be content with the result, though perhaps slightly disappointed his team could not have netted the opener.
As the second half began, the two sides took to the pitch unchanged, and Germany resumed their uncompromising attacking style, while Ghana defended and looked stellar on the break. The first five minutes of the second half were played almost entirely in Ghana's defending half, but the Africans were first to create a clear scoring opportunity. Asamoah was first to a through ball, but Neuer was quick off his line and blocked the midfielder's effort.
In the second half, Lahm into a permanent midfield position, and Friedrich, Per Mertesacker, and Jerome Boateng formed a three-man defence. The Germans looked strong on the right channel, but as was the case earlier, never had a reliable target in the penalty box.
As events would unfold, such a player was unnecessary. On the hour mark, Oezil finally broke his scoring duck with a gorgeous volley from the edge of the D. His shot sliced just enough to beat Kingson at the left post, sending the Germans temporarily atop their group.
Ghana responded immediately with a strong spell in attack. Ayew first delivered an exquisite cross to Tagoe, but the attacker's close-ranged header was cleared off the line by Jerome Boateng. Next, Gyan played a perfect back-heel to set up Ayew, but Lahm intervened at the last moment to deflect the resulting shot over the bar.
The Germans eventually resolidified at the back as Lahm moved back into his normal role on the right side of defence. Finally able to drop back to a less aggressive stance, the Europeans looked much more stable at the back, and like Ghana before, looked to score on the counterattack.
Ghana earned a good spell of possession, but were unable to get behind their opponents' back line. Despite being dangerously close to crashing out of the tournament, the Ghanaians seemed to lose their desire to score. It was a thin line that Ghana toed between facing the United States in the Round of 16 and finishing third in their group.
In the end, that gamble paid off. Both sides played to a rather lacklustre conclusion, with Germany finishing first, and Ghana second in group D. The two teams now advance to the Round of 16 to face England and the United States, respectively.
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