Three quick thoughts on Ghana-Australia (World Cup Group D)
Three quick thoughts on Ghana's 1-1 draw with Australia in Group D:
1. A little drama kicked Australia to life. After the Socceroos' lackluster performance in their opener, a 4-0 drubbing at the hands of the Germans, the Aussie press went to town, first intimating that there is discord in the team because Harry Kewell didn't warm up with the rest of the squad before the Germany game and then reporting that two players, Mark Bresciano and Vince Grella, angrily confronted coach Pim Verbeek after the loss. (One paper reported that Verbeek told Bresciano he'd rather play a goalkeeper in midfield than Bresciano.) That led to angry denials, especially from Kewell, who demanded that one writer explain himself, then grew even more unhappy when he found out that the scribe in question wasn't present. "Why isn't he here?" Kewell said. "He's the one making all these accusations. I want him to know about it. I want to know why is he doing it? Does anyone have any answers for me?" That chippiness carried over onto the field, where Australia jumped out to a strong start, taking a well-deserved lead after Bresciano, of all people, skidded a free kick that Ghana keeper Richard Kingson couldn't handle. But it was all for naught, because ...
2. Australia was unlucky -- again. Referee Roberto Rosetti's decision to send off Harry Kewell after Jonathan Mensah's shot rifled off his arm was harsh, but ultimately it was the right call. The bottom line is that Kewell's arm was out, and if you're standing on the goal line, you can't have your arm away from your body like that. (Oh, if only Rosetti had been refereeing the United States-Germany quarterfinal in 2002 instead of Hugh Dallas. It's funny that at a time when the big story is whether or not the U.S. got hosed by the referee we see a virtual replay of what was, until last night, the most controversial play in U.S. soccer history.) So for the second consecutive World Cup, Australia's hopes have fizzled out after a disputed penalty; in 2006 they lost to Italy in the round of 16 after Fabio Grosso tumbled over a prostrate Lucas Neill in stoppage time.
3. Ghana isn't quite ready. Stacked with a mix of experienced players who went to the round of 16 in 2006 and kids from the squad that won the U-20 world championship last year, Ghana rightly fancied its chances to make a statement in South Africa. But Ghana had loads of trouble breaking down Australia in the final third (most of the Black Stars' shots were from distance), which can be partially attributed to the team playing without its best midfielder, Michael Essien. But where Ghana really looked shaky was at the back. Injuries forced Milovan Rajevac to start defenders Mensah and Lee Addy, whose combined age is less than Aussie goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer's (Schwarzer is 37). Addy nearly conceded a penalty in the opening minutes and shortly thereafter he bowled over his keeper. Mensah had a terrible giveaway with 10 minutes left, conceding a dangerous free kick that ultimately came to nothing. And both of the 19-year-olds were booked. The fact that Ghana couldn't break down 10-man Australia doesn't bode well for its chances this year. But in addition to its developing defenders, who both showed potential, consider that Kevin-Prince Boateng is 23, Asamoah Gyan is 24, Sulley Muntari is 25 and Essien is only 27. Watch out in 2014.
Mark Bechtel is blogging about his experiences in South Africa during the World Cup.