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Ghana match is 'historic' for independent Serbia

Serbia will make its World Cup debut on Sunday as an independent nation when it faces a Ghanaian team.

test sharma | Associated Press

Updated:June 12, 2010, 10:49 PM IST
Ghana match is 'historic' for independent Serbia
Serbia will make its World Cup debut on Sunday as an independent nation when it faces a Ghanaian team.

Pretoria: Serbia will make its World Cup debut on Sunday as an independent nation when it faces a Ghanaian team eager to make an impact despite the absence of injured star Michael Essien.

It's a special moment for Serbs, who have a rich football history as part of the now defunct nations of Yugoslavia and Serbia and Montenegro, and especially for team captain Dejan Stankovic.

After Ghana, he will have participated in three World Cups — each for a different nation.

"It's going to be a historic match for Serb football," the Inter Milan midfielder said on Saturday. "We will be very emotional."

Now 31, Stankovic played for Yugoslavia in the 1998 World Cup and for Serbia and Montenegro four years ago. The latter union fell apart the same year when Montenegro declared independence.

Led by Milovan Rajevac, the third Serb to coach Ghana in eight years, the Africans should have a good handle on their Balkan adversaries heading into the high-altitude match in Pretoria.

A former Red Star Belgrade defender, Rajevac is taking on his compatriots without Essien, ruled out of the World Cup because of a long-term knee injury.

Essien's absence is a severe setback for the Black Stars, who were runners-up in the Africa Cup of Nations earlier this year.

"He is a massive player for us — we will miss him a a lot," said Ghana midfielder Sulley Muntari, who plays club football with Stankovic at Inter Milan.

Ghana will count on Muntari's pace and striker Asamoah Gyan's firepower to rattle a solid Serbian backline built around Manchester United's Nemanja Vidic.

The Serbs edged France in qualifying but underperformed in pre-tournament friendlies. Winger Milos Krasic said a win Sunday would boost their confidence for the next match, against group favorite Germany.

Four years ago in Germany, the Serbia-Montenegro team lost all three group matches, including a humiliating 6-0 defeat to Argentina wedged between narrow losses to Netherlands and Ivory Coast.

Coach Radomir Antic, who has led Serbia for two years, was reluctant to compare that squad to his current group of players.

"For us what is behind us can't be changed," he said. "We are here for the first time in the World Cup as an independent nation. This makes us even more motivated and stronger."

Antic said all 23 players in the squad are in good form, including Vidic who missed the 2006 World Cup because of an injury.

A four-time African champion and 1992 Olympic bronze medalist, Ghana, historically, is one of Africa's strongest teams. But it has only played a World Cup once before, in 2006, when it lost to Brazil in the second round after beating Czech Republic and United States in the group stage. The back-to-back wins followed its opening loss to eventual champion Italy.

Neither team has had a smooth run-up to this tournament, with Serbia switching training grounds and Ghana changing hotels.

The Serbs didn't like the pitch at the AW Muller Stadium in Johannesburg and moved their training sessions to a nearby rugby ground.

The Ghanaians complained about "unresolved technical issues" at their Pretoria hotel and relocated to Rustenburg.

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