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Australia 2 Serbia 1
24/06/2010  by Telegraph.co.uk
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a jubilant Tim Cahill wheels away after scoring Australia's first goal against Serbia

The win Australia needed they duly delivered but not in the numbers necessary to reach the knock-out stage. Like the hosts South Africa against France the night before Australia’s train powered up too late.

After taking a two-goal lead in the second half through Tim Cahill and Brett Holman Australia still needed a two goal swing in Johannesburg, where Germany were leading Ghana by a goal.

When the swing came it was in the wrong direction with substitute Marko Pantelic slotting home for Serbia with six minutes to go.

That did not stop Australia piling forward in a frenzied finish. Joshua Kennedy was unlucky to see his shot slip by a post. That would have been hard n Serbia who until Cahill headed home in the 70th minute had been the better team.

The first half was particulary one-sided as Serbia sought the victory that would take them through in second place.

Australia had Mark Schwarzer to thank for keeping them in the game with a string of world class saves. No wonder Arsene Wenger has his sights set on him.

The Australians had swathed the stadium in yellow and sang their boys into action with a powerful chorus in support of Advance Australia Fair.

The yellow shirts responded by flying out the traps at a frenetic pace, befitting a team that needed to win to contend for the last 16.

The absence of the suspended Harry Kewell and Craig Moore weakened Australia theoretically up front and at the back. But this was not a night for feeling sorry for oneself, besides no country is better placed mentally to rolling up sleeves and getting on with it.

As things stood at the kick-off both were going out. How much better these games become when the contest is defined by prior results. The first chance fell to Serbia. The excellent Milos Krasic, who gave Manchester United nightmares in the Champions League, should have done better than blaze over with an empty net to fill having rounded Schwarzer.

Minutes later a brilliant three-touch dissection of Australia involving Aleksander Lukovic, the overlapping Branislav Ivanovic and finally Zdravko Kuzmanovic breaking into the box only narrowly failed to put Serbia ahead.

Schwarzer was the busier keeper and did brilliantly to block an Ivanovic volley when a slam dunk looked a given from close range.

Why didn’t Serbia play with this conviction in the opening matches? They might have been spared the tension of the roulette wheel in Nelspruit.

There was none of the laboured movement we saw against Ghana, or the fear that saw them penned in their own half for much of the match against ten-man Germany, which anomalously they won.

As the half wore on Australia could barely get out of their own half. Krasnic had the ball in the net only for the linesman to signal for offside.

It was marginal at best. Watching Serbia lacerate a hard-working if limited Australian side the prospect of England facing Germany or Ghana on Sunday looked a good option. Dejan Stankovic and Milan Jovanovic locked down the midfield entirely; robust but no less rhythmic for that.

With the last positive action of the first half and on a rare break from manning the pumps Joshua Kennedy managed a header on target for Australia. They looked a tired side at the interval.

With Germany and Ghana also scoreless at half time the group dynamic had not changed. Both were going out.

The pattern of the first 45 minutes was quickly imposed after the restart. If only the first chance of the half had not fallen to Nikola Zigic, the World Cup’s tallest player and arguably the poorest, pound for pound.

Jovanovic teed up beautifully Valencia’s vast totem then watched all his good work blasted wastefully over the bar.

News that Germany had taken the lead in Soweto saw both teams make double substitutions. The introduction of Brett Holman and Scott Chipperfield had the greater impact for Australia in the middle of the park and within minutes Cahill headed them in front.

It wasn’t pretty, but it counted. There were no such issues with Australia’s second, an emphatic 25-yarder from Holman.

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