Nelspruit’s Mbombela stadium was a grand theatre for the drama that was the Group D match between Serbia and Australia. Mauled by the Germans and thwarted by the Ghanaians, the Australians finally managed to present their best face at the expense of unlucky Serbs. It ended Australia 2, Serbia 1.
It was a game of two halves: the first half saw the Serbs totally dominate play, and the Australians playing with a sole attacker, Kennedy, not being able to do much about it. The Serbs played a good-looking, flowing style of soccer with of quick passes and dangerous crosses looking for their basketball-sized forward, Zigic. As you will see from the reporter’s notes, the Aussies’ skin was saved several times by the veteran master-keeper Mark Schwarzer.
In the second half, the Aussies finally decided to get out and look for the win. And a win they found through two thoroughly brilliant individual goals by Cahill and Holman. The first was achieved by jumping over Manchester United’s Vidic and the second by shooting brilliantly from almost 30 metres and not giving any chance to the goalkeeper Stojkovic.
Like any nail-biter, the game was not without controversy and the Serbs will have ample opportunity to feel unhappy with refereeing on the night. Uruguayan referee Jorge Larrionda was rather passive as Tim Cahill handled the ball in the Aussie penalty box, soon after the Serbs reduced the Aussie lead after Schwarzer’s strange handling mistake (Jabulani?). Seeing that the Serbs had previously conceded two penalties by handling the ball in manner much less conspicuous than Cahill’s, it is only understandable that they felt wronged.
Sadly for both teams, after the great battle of the Lowveld, they were both confirmed to be out of the World Cup. But such is the nature of this great tournament: way more hearts are broken than full of love.
Australia: Schwarzer, Luke Wilkshire , Michael Beauchamp, Lucas Neill, David Carney, Brett Emerton, Jason Culina, Tim Cahill, Carl Valeri, Mark Bresciano, Josh Kennedy
Serbia: Vladimir Stojkovic, Branislav Ivanovic, Nemanja Vidic, Aleksandar Lukovic, Ivan Obradovic, Dejan Stankovic, Zdravko Kuzmanovic, Milos Ninkovic, Milos Krasic, Nikola Žigic, Milan Jovanovic
Man of the match
Before the match
The Serbs are back to full strength, with central defender Lukovic back to claim his place next to Vidic. From their side, the Aussies have Tim Cahill back but Harry Kewell is under suspension after his unfairly earned red card against Ghana.
Nelspruit stadium is a beautiful venue.
- 6th minute: Krasic makes a telling run on the right. His shot was deflected by Schwarzer, resulting in a corner that Serbia badly miscues.
- 9th minute: Ivanovic’s header misses the goal by quite a few metres.
For the first 10 minutes it is pretty much all Serbia, whose keeper is yet to touch the ball. Still, the Aussies feel energised by their draw against Ghana. It will be a tough battle, this one.
- 12th minute: After a lightning fast counter-attack, Krasic is alone in front of Schwarzer. He goes around him and shoots from an acute angle, missing by two metres. Schwarzer is a brilliant keeper.
- 16th minute: Kuzmanovic drills the ball into the Aussie penalty box but his cross goes nowhere.
- 18th minute: Jovanovic’s cross is scooped by Neill right in front of gigantic Serbian attacker, Zigic.
- 18th minute: Lukovic gets the first yellow card of the match. To remind you, he is just back from getting a red card in the Ghana match.
- 21st minute: First corner for the Aussies: a tall Serbian defence deals with the cross with ease. The Serbian keeper is yet to touch the ball.
- 23rd minute: Schwarzer brilliantly saves Ivanovic’s volley from seven metres. He will be difficult to defeat today, if he continues like this.
There is a carnival atmosphere at the Nelspruit stadium, beautiful!
Unlike the previous two games, the Serbs are playing a flowing possession game, probably because the Aussie midfield is letting them dominate the space.
Photo: Australia’s Tim Cahill (C) fights for the ball with Serbia’s Nemanja Vidic (R), near Aleksandar Lukovic, during a 2010 World Cup Group D soccer match at Mbombela stadium in Nelspruit June 23, 2010. REUTERS/Daniel Munoz
- 32nd minute: Best attack by Australia so far, with Cahill jumping high but missing the Serbian goals rather wildly.
- 34th minute: Zigic’s header is wide of the mark and he will be very unhappy he missed it as he was completely unimpeded.
- 38th minute: Krasic’s goal is disallowed because he was offside.
- 39th minute: A half chance for Australia, but they are yet to produce a shot on goal.
- 42nd minute: A promising cross by Jovanovic, but no one in Serbian attack to use it.
- 43rd minute: Australia has 11 players behind the ball.
- 46th minute: Kennedy produces the first effort on target for Australia, but his header is meek and barely reaches Stojkovic.
- 47th minute: Bresciano’s menacing low cross from the free kick was deflected into corner. The Aussies seem a bit more energetic than in the first half.
- 50th minute: The Serbs are back to their menacing ways.
- 51st minute: Cahill shoots wildly: to say it was off the mark is an understatement.
- 53rd minute: Zigic misses the goal from 11 metres, but, tall as he is, couldn’t keep the ball down.
- 55th minute: Culina’s shot on Serbian goal is strong, but flies four metres away from the far post.
- 59th minute: Bresciano troubles Stojkovic from the free kick, for the first time today, but not very much.
- 68th minute: Kuzmanovic’s header flies just inches from the post. Schwarzer was in control, though.
- 69th minute: Tim Cahill scores! His difficult-to-believe header flew like a bullet into Stojkovic’s net. It was the very first dangerous shot that the Aussies have managed in the entire game. Once again, not-so-tall Cahill has proven his aerial brilliance.
- 73rd minute: Holman scores for Australia and delivers the knock-out to Serbia! A magnificent strike from 25 metres buries the ball in Stojkovic’s bottom right corner. The Aussies are running riot.
The Serbs appear to have accepted the loss. Their energy is way down and it will be difficult for them to recover.
- 84th minute Serbia pulls one back! Tosic’s meek shot is inexplicably spilled by Schwarzer and Pantelic has the easiest of taps to score. Serbia are back in the game!
- 86th minute: Pantelic scores again but he is offside.
- 87th minute: Kennedy has a great chance but his shot is wide.
- 88th minute: Lazovic skies the ball from a very promising situation.
- 90th minute: Cahill handles the ball in the penalty box but the referee is not interested.
- 94th minute Australia win!
By Branko Brkic
Main photo: Australia’s Tim Cahill (C) celebrates after scoring against Serbia during a 2010 World Cup Group D soccer match at Mbombela stadium in Nelspruit June 23, 2010. REUTERS/Howard Burditt