Australia have beaten Serbia 2 – 1 in their final match in Group D but the score line means little as both sides go home suffering from a sore case of ‘too little, too late’.
For the Australians, their late start to winning form made going through to the last 16 a near impossibility. They needed to win this game by some margin in order to claw themselves back from a heavy goal deficit created by a 4-0 spanking by the Germans in the previous game.
Although Serbia were better placed, needing a win to go through and even flirting with the chance to top the group had Germany fallen at the last hurdle against Ghana, they found their best moments too late in this game and will seriously rue their missed chances in a first half they dominated.
Accused of being the ‘whingiest’ team in the World Cup, the Australians looked certain to continue their dreadful form in this game, hardly creating any chances in the first half and narrowly escaping going three or four goals down thanks only to a series of bad misses from the Serbians.
Serbian player of the year Krasic was their biggest threat, his best chance coming early on when surging down the right hand side on the 11th minute he forced Schwarzer into a fantastic one-handed save at his left corner. Krazic and teammate Zigic both had great chances later on in the half. Zigic especially should have finished a free header from a corner mid way through the half, yet despite a wholly one-sided display in which Australia barely featured, the first 45 finished 0-0.
The Australians must have remembered they were in a World Cup because it was a different side that emerged from the dressing room for the second half. By ten minutes in the game had completely turned on its head and the Socceroos looked almost as dangerous as the Serbians had in the first, with very little to whinge about.
Their talisman and hero Cahill, who had picked up a debilitating and some would argue unjust red card in the Australian’s first game, bounced back to score a sublime header in the 68th minute. From nearly 15 yards out, the Aussie captain somehow powerfully redirected a weak low cross into the top left corner, all the while under pressure from two defenders and his own teammate.
Only 5 minutes later the Aussies were on the score sheet again. Substitute Holman charged into space ten yards out of the box and answered the Serbs’ invitation to shoot with a sweet strike into the left hand corner to make it 2-0 Australia.
This sudden burst of zeal really put the Serbs on a downer and they looked certain to be going out on a low had Pantelic not converted an opportunistic chance ten minutes later. Aussie stopper Schwarzer spilled a low bouncing shot in the 83rd minute and Pantelic was the first to react to bring the score to 2 – 1.
This turn of fortune put the wind in the Serb’s sails, who must have known they could edge themselves above Ghana with an equaliser here. The final ten minutes served up a great display of ‘end to end’ football with both teams creating chances. The best fell to Serbian goal scorer Pantelic right at the death. Having already fluffed a chance by creeping offside moments before, the Serb striker found himself in almost exactly the same position, controlling a great cross by Tosic only to sky his shot over the bar.
A ‘heart in the mouth’, thrilling finish to the game but the Serbs in particular will be devastated at throwing away their world cup dream. It had all been too little, too late and Germany top group D with Ghana a close second.
Australia: Schwarzer, Wilkshire (Garcia, 82), Beauchamp, Neill, Carney, Culina, Valeri (Holman, 65), Emerton, Cahill, Bresciano (Chipperfield, 66), Kennedy.
Serbia: Stojkovic, Ivanovic, Vidic, Lukovic, Obradovic, Stankovic, Kuzmanovic (Lazovic, 77) , Ninkovic, Krasic (Tosic, 62), Jovanovic, Zigic (Pantelic, 67).