JOHANNESBURG - Ghana lost 1-0 to Germany in an end-to-end Group D thriller at Soccer City on Wednesday but kept Africa's tattered flag flying at the World Cup as both teams advanced into the second round.
In a match when there were no real losers, Germany emerged with the points and Ghana received the thanks of a grateful continent despite being unable to find an answer to Mesut Ozil's 20-metre scorcher on the hour that divided the teams at the end.
For three-times World Cup winners Germany this was just another World Cup win as they maintained their record of always advancing from the group stages of the tournament.
For Ghana it will go into the record books as a loss but will also be remembered as the night they reached the last 16 of Africa's first World Cup to keep the flag flying.
They are likely to be the only African team in the second round after the elimination of hosts South Africa, Nigeria, Algeria, Cameroon and almost certainly the Ivory Coast.
"I hope the majority of South Africans will continue to support us... I hope we will benefit from massive support here in South Africa," said Ghana coach Milovan Rajevac.
They have secured a winnable second-round match against Group C winners United States in Rustenburg on Saturday.
Germany, who finished top with six points, will face old rivals England in Bloemfontein on Sunday while Australia, who won 2-1 in Nelspruit, were eliminated with opponents Serbia.
At its core this match brought together the dynamism and excitement of African football and the pragmatic efficiency of the Germans, who just had a little too much defensive guile and experience to see off their enthusiastic opponents.
However, they rarely had it all their own way and only won because of Ghana's woeful inability to finish off some excellent approach work with a goal -- and some excellent defending.
"Ghana is a strong team, they are very skilful and they created many dangerous opportunities," said Germany coach Joachim Low. "... we have many young players but were able to take the pressure and score in a very decisive moment."
Despite the rearguard action of the Germans, though, Ghana should have done better in front of goal.
The most blatant example of their profligacy came after 52 minutes when Kwadwo Asamoah, with only Manuel Neuer to beat, fired straight at the Germany goalkeeper's legs and wasted the chance to put his team ahead.
Dede Ayew also had three good scoring chances and, although Philipp Lahm saved one of those efforts with a brave block on the line, Ayew seemed fazed every time he was had a chance.
Ghana have gone 13 matches without scoring more than one goal - and their two strikes here have come from penalties.
Germany also struggled to break down a solid Ghana defence in which Jonathan Mensah and his unrelated namesake John Mensah were outstanding, before Ozil struck the winner.
The match will also enter World Cup folklore as being the first in which two brothers - Ghana's Kevin-Prince Boateng and Germany's Jerome Boateng - were on opposing sides.
Both played well with Ghana's Boateng driving his side forward at every opportunity with incisive through balls from midfield and Germany's Boateng a physical presence on the left.
The entertainment began with the first chance from Germany's Brazilian-born forward Cacau after only three minutes, testing goalkeeper Richard Kingson with a low drive.
Cacau then set up Ozil with a perfect through ball in the box but the playmaker, with only Kingson to beat, could only manage a weak shot.
Ghana's defence gradually shut down the supply lines to Cacau and Lukas Podolski, forcing the Germans to try their luck with long-range efforts.
Both teams poured forward searching for a goal and even after Ozil finally broke the deadlock, Ghana continued to attack, changing the nature of the game entirely with Germany forced to reply on the counter.
With news filtering through from Nelspruit that Australia were leading Serbia, the pressure dropped a little towards the end but no-one begrudged the players that as they had all achieved what they set out to do by reaching the last 16.comments