A shocker, a testy tie and an historic advance
In the tournament’s biggest upset so far, Ghana gave Africa its first win in eight games at this World Cup, shutting out the Czech Republic 2-0 yesterday.
Ghana scored in the second minute, for the earliest goal of this World Cup. Team captain Stephen Appiah found Asamoah Gyan just inside the penalty area. Gyan, a 20-year-old forward, then blasted a left-footed kick to the low right corner, past goalkeeper Petr Cech.
In the next minute, Ghana had another scoring chance, as forward Matthew Amoah’s kick from the edge of the box went wide of the net.
The Czechs, playing without striker Jan Koller, who suffered a hamstring injury against the United States last week, had a couple of chances to keep up in a frenzied first half. Defender Marek Jankulovski’s low kick missed the net in the third minute, and midfielder Karel Poborsky's shot from the right corner of the box missed the left post by inches in the 29th minute.
Ghana didn’t let up in the second half. Gyan took a goal kick from goalkeeper Richard Kingson and ran straight at the heart of the Czech defense to launch a shot that required a full-length save by Cech.
Then in the 65th minute, Amoah drew a penalty after Tomas Ujfalusi brought him down. Gyan stepped up to score what appeared to be Ghana’s second goal, but referee Horacio Elizondo was busy showing the red card to Ujfalusi. Gyan received a yellow card for taking the kick prematurely. Gyan’s second attempt bounced off the left-hand post.
The second goal did come, near the end of the match, as Gyan fed Sulley Muntari for a 12-yard blast past Cech.
“This is our first World Cup, so it’s a historic moment for Ghana,” Gyan told FIFA’s World Cup Web site. “In our first game, we lost a little bit of concentration but we did our homework well.”
In another Group E match, Italy and the United States played to a 1-1 draw. Three red cards were issued in the game and most of the second half was played with 10 Italians against nine Americans.
The U.S. squad had some early chances: in the 16th minute, Clint Dempsey’s cross landed on Bobby Convey, but his shot went over the top. Two minutes later, Landon Donovan fed Dempsey at the top of the arch, but his shot dragged wide of the net.
Italy drew the first blood, with Alberto Gilardino heading in a free kick by Andrea Pirlo in the 22nd minute.
Americans pulled even just five minutes later, when Italian defender Cristian Zaccardo put American midfielder Claudio Reyna's free kick into his own net.
Then the match turned testy.
In the 28th minute, Daniele De Rossi was sent off with a red card for elbowing Brian McBride in the face. Just before the end of the first half, American Pablo Mastroeni evened the men strength at 10 apiece, being ejected for a hard tackle on Pirlo.
Ten became nine for team U.S., as Eddie Pope earned his second yellow card for a foul on Gilardino in the 47th minute. Pilro curled the ensuing free kick just over the crossbar.
Italy had more chances, including Alessandro Del Piero’s volley, stopped by Kasey Keller in the 73rd minute, but failed to convert them to notch a victory that would have put them in the round of 16.
“To tie Italy with nine men has got to be one of the best results we've ever gained,” U.S. captain Claudio Reyna told Reuters. “This was huge, especially against a top team like Italy. We were extremely motivated to get a point.”
The picture at Group E remains fuzzy, with all four teams still alive with one game left apiece.
In Group D, Portugal progressed to the knockout stage for the first time in 40 years, defeating Iran 2-0 late Saturday (Korean time) for its second victory in as many games. Two second-half goals by Deco and Cristiano Ronaldo gave Portugal six points, tops in the group. Portugal joins Argentina and the Netherlands, which had advanced to the next round thanks to their victories late Friday and early Saturday. Iran, without a point after two matches, has been eliminated.
Portuguese veterans Luis Figo, 33, and Deco, 28, were keys to the victory, after struggling to find a rhythm in the team’s first match against Angola. The two connected in the game’s first chance in the 12th minute, with Figo setting up Deco on the left corner of the box for a volley stopped by Iranian goalkeeper Ebrahim Mirzapour. Figo later found Ronaldo with a corner kick but the young striker’s header went off the chest of defender Hossein Kaabi.
Figo wasn’t done, even after taking Kaabi’s spike in the face in a midfield collision in the 36th minute. In the 63rd minute, the Portuguese captain teed one up for Deco on the top of the arch, and the midfielder's blast to the left shelf gave Portugal a 1-0 lead.
With about 10 minutes left in the match, Figo drew a penalty after Iran’s captain Yahya Golmohammadi took him down in the box. Ronaldo converted the chance for the final score.
“This was the best performance by my team in the last seven or eight games,” Portuguese head coach Luiz Felipe Scolari told FIFA’s World Cup Web site. “Now we have qualified we can concentrate on other things for the next match, and give a chance for some players to recover [from bumps and bruises].”In late Friday's and early Saturday's matches, Argentina and the Netherlands advanced to the round of 16 out of Group C, the vaunted “Group of Death.”
Argentina put on an offensive clinic and completely dismantled the hapless defense of Serbia and Montenegro, winning the match 6-0 in the most lopsided game of the tournament.
The second tally came in a tic-tac-toe play that delighted 52,000 fans in Gelsenkirchen. With his back to the net, Esteban Cambiasso received a perfect pass from Javier Saviola, fed Hernan Crespo in the penalty box and took Crespo’s on-the-money heel pass to score a highlight-reel goal.
The Dutch earned a hard-fought, 2-1 win over Ivory Coast on goals by Robin van Persie and Ruud van Nistelrooij.
Van Persie opened the scoring in the 23rd minute with a left-foot free kick near the arch: he had drawn the foul himself. Four minutes later, Van Nistelrooy, the much-maligned striker who was substituted for in the team’s first game against Serbia and Montenegro, scored his first of the tournament, converting a pretty pass from Arjen Robben that split two defenders just outside the arch on the left.
The day’s final contest, pitting Mexico against Angola in the Group D match, ended in a scoreless draw.
Angola, whose FIFA ranking is 53 places below No. 4 Mexico, frustrated the favorites with strong defense and superb efforts by goalkeeper Joao Ricardo. The Angolan’s biggest save came in the 88th minute. With Angola reduced to 10 men, Mexico captain Rafael Marquez fired a rocket from 30 yards out that seemed destined for the upper right-hand corner of the net, but the Angolan keeper sprung to tip the ball wide.
by Yoo Jee-ho