By Adam Vaccaro
What happened Sunday: Asamoah Gyan's penalty kick found the upper left corner and put Ghana ahead of Serbia 1-0 in the 85th minute, launching Loftus Versfeld Stadium into celebration. The score would hold and Black Star players would run the field waving their nation's flag; the victory marked the first ever by an African team on African ground in World Cup history. Serbian midfielder Zdravko Kuzmanovic won't remember the match fondly, as it was his handball inside the box that set up the late and deciding spot-kick. While Africa's first victory of the tournament grabs the headlines and the continent's emotions, another first came of Gyan's conversion: his goal was the first scored by a striker since play began on Friday.
Also Sunday: Efficiency, organization, and tactical brilliance have long been the hallmarks of German soccer. Against Australia, the current incarnation showed that the formula still works. Die Mannschaft actually seemed a bit taken aback by its competition in the opening minutes but were able to quickly assess the Socceroos and posted its first goal inside of the ten minute mark. By match's end Germany had completely dissected Oceania's finest, posting a 4-0 score and establishing itself as the class of Group D. Germany got its goals from four different players and in so doing showcased both individual brilliance (such as Thomas Muller's 68th minute strike) and fantastic team play (Mesut Ozil's spot-on delivery across the box to set up Lukas Podolski in the 8th minute).
For the second time in less than 24 hours, poor goalkeeping dictated the result of a Group C match. Algerian keeper Faouzi Chaouchi, like England's Robert Green before him, was in the right spot to stop the deciding bid, but Robert Koren's weak shot from 18 yards managed to roll past the keeper and stake Slovenia to a late 1-0 lead. Considered by most the least talented squad in Group C, Slovenia now sits atop the group's standings, having picked up a quick three points.
What it all means: America and England alike were hoping for a draw out of Slovenia and Algeria. Instead, Slovenia managed to pick up the victory and now is in control of the group that many thought would be a cakewalk for its Western nations. The good news for the Yanks and the Three Lions is that neither team looked very strong at all on Sunday morning. The bad news is that it hardly matters: a draw against either of its supposed superiors and the Dragons, whose only real strength is keeping teams off the scoreboard, could cost one of the group's favorites a spot in the Round of 16.
After the first set of matches, Germany sits comfortably atop Group D. As a result of Tim Cahill's red card against Die Mannschaft, the Socceroos will be without its star player when it faces Ghana on Saturday. This will be a tremendous opportunity for the Black Stars. Victory will grant them access to the Round of 16 and further electrify the continent, assuming Germany defeats Serbia.
In addition to Cahill, Serbia's Aleksander Lukovic and Algeria's Abdelkader Ghezzal were issued red cards on the day. They join Uruguay's Nicolas Lodeiro as having already received an ejection and suspension in the young tournament.
What to watch on Monday: The day's best soccer will likely come early on when Denmark meets the Netherlands at 7:30 a.m. Holland's quick, up-tempo, creative brand of soccer has long been the Dutch tradition and this squad's personnel in the attack is among the tournament's best. Denmark is strong defensively and may compete with the perennial contender but is the clear underdog.
Also Monday: Like Group D, Group E features one team (Netherlands) that should move on and three others that all could stand a chance. In addition to Denmark, Japan and Cameroon could each conceivably advance to the knockout round. Saturday's match, then, between the two has huge implications. Cameroon features superstar Samuel Eto'o, who won the Champion's League with Inter Milan a few weeks ago. The African team will go as he takes them, especially given that in World Cups past, scoring has been a major issue for the Indomitable Lions. Japan's finesse play and up-and-coming attitude should serve as a solid first test for Cameroon.
In the afternoon, the 2006 champions will play their first match of this year's final when Italy and Paraguay match up in Cape Town. Italy returns a remarkable nine players from its Cup winning squad, giving the team valuable experience. That also means, of course, that they're quite old. This year's World Cup represents for Italy a study in just how young a man's game the tournament is. Paraguay will look to take advantage of Italy's age with a quick counterattack that it has utilized to make up for an often punchless attack. With qualifying victories over Argentina and Brazil, La Albirroja could certainly pose a threat to the defending champs on Monday.
Question of the Day: How has the injury to Paraguay's high-scoring striker Salvador Cabanas effected the team? Cabanas survived a gunshot wound to the head in late January, which cost him the opportunity to take part in the tournament. His recovery has been remarkably quick and the event may serve as a rallying point for the team, but to be without its top offensive threat under such emotional circumstances, obviously, could be detrimental to Paraguay.
Full schedule (all times EDT): Netherlands v Holland Soccer City Stadium, Johannesburg 7:30 a.m.; Japan v Cameroon Free State Stadium, MangaungBloemfontein 10:00 a.m.; Italy v Paraguay Green Point Stadium, Cape Town 2:30 p.m.
Quote of Note: For myself, my job, this is a great victory. Im sorry for the Serbian team. I love its players. I tried to perform my duties in a professional manner and it is very difficult to play against Serbia. - Ghana coach and Serbian Milovan Rajevac following his team's 1-0 victory.