Ten-man Australia showed great heart and determination in earning a hard-fought 1-1 draw against Ghana on Saturday at the FIFA World Cup in Rustenburg, South Africa.
The main storyline
Australia was utterly humiliated in its opening match of the tournament, stuffed 4-0 by mighty Germany. Many critics wrote off the Socceroos after that embarrassing performance, but the Australians are still alive going into the final slate of Group D games courtesy of a heroic effort in Rustenburg.
Missing influential midfielders Tim Cahill (suspended) and Vince Grella (knee injury), Australia took a shocking 1-0 lead in the 11th minute when Ghana goalkeeper Richard Kingson fumbled a free kick attempt and Brett Holman pounced on the rebound to slam the ball home.
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The momentum was short-lived, though. Tragedy befell the Aussies just 13 minutes later as Harry Kewel was red-carded for a hand ball inside the 18-yard box. Ghana scored on the ensuing penalty shot, and the Africans appeared to have things well in hand.
But instead of shrinking under the pressure, the Aussies held firm, thwarting the Ghanaians as they poured forward and effectively hit out on the counterattack.
Australia was let down by some poor finishing in front of goal and had a few chances to win the game, but could still hold their heads high after putting forth a fantastic effort while playing a man down for the majority of the match.
Turning point of the game
With Ghana swarming the penalty area, Kewel was judged to have handled the ball on the goal-line in the 24th minute. The Australian winger was red-carded for illegally preventing what would have been a goal, and the Socceroos were reduced to 10 men. Asamoah Gyan converted from the penalty spot for Ghana, and we had a new game on our hands.
What this result means
All four teams in Group D are still alive and have a shot at claiming one of the two second-round berths up for grabs. Ghana leads the group with four points, ahead of Germany and Serbia (three points each) and Australia (one point).
Ghana needs only a draw in its final group-stage match to book its spot in the round of 16. Australia needs a victory against Serbia to keep its hopes alive — a loss or draw would eliminate the Socceroos from the competition.
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Man of the match
Australia's Mark Schwarzer made a handful of great saves, denying Ghana on several occasions and keeping his team in the game longer than many expected after being reduced to 10 men in the first half.
Save of the match
Late in the first half, Schwarzer expertly tipped Prince Tagoe's low, driving shot from close range out of danger after the Ghanaian forward made a nice move down the right to get into scoring position.
The Australian perspective
"We're still in the race. The boys were fighting for everything, and with everything they had. I can only be proud of the players." — coach Pim Verbeek
The Ghanaian perspective
"We got off to a bad start, conceding a goal. After that, we started to fight. We shouldn't have given that goal away. It's very difficult to attack a team with a good defence." — coach Milovan Rajevac
Ghana takes on Germany in Johannesburg on Wednesday (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 2 p.m. ET), while Australia meets Serbia the same day in Nelspruit (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 2 p.m. ET).