Toni Kroos’ kick from the corner, at the start, looked like a lot of corner kicks you’ve seen before. The Brazuca traced an arc through the oppressively hot air from where Kroos’ right foot broke the ball’s inertia toward the edge of the goal area, sailing well above all 1.92 meters of a leaping Per Mertesacker and into a crease in the Ghana defensive arrangement at about the same spot where Benedikt Höwedes had made his run, with midfielder Sulley Muntari a step behind.
The set piece then moved from ‘fairly typical’ to ‘somewhat interesting,’ when Höwedes nodded the ball toward the back post, and immediately leaped into ‘utterly historic’ when the German player sliding to intercept the ball’s new trajectory near the back post was second-most scoringest World Cup goal-scorer of all-time, Miroslav Klose, who then, after fewer than two minutes on the pitch, had vacated that number-two spot to tie Brazil’s Ronaldo for top spot on the World Cup goal-scoring chart.
Unfortunately for Germany, the comeback bid for the Group G favorites came up about as short as Klose’s goal-celebrating front flip did. Klose rotated far enough around for his feet to hit the ground first, but not quite far enough to keep from landing on his posterior. Likewise, Klose’s goal erased the 2-1 deficit that had Germany’s supporters sweating for eight minutes, but die Nationalmannschaft couldn’t muster a game-winner, settling for the hard-won single point.
A Slow Start
Before the match, conventional wisdom held that Ghana needed to be the aggressor against Germany. Having grossly out-shot the United States in their World Cup opener on Monday, Ghana had proved it could create opportunity, but the 2-1 loss left questions about an ability to finish those opportunities.
Germany certainly appeared to agree with the assessment, largely content to rack-up “completed passes” statistics in a very, very slow-build offense, if you can refer to the unchallenged circulation of the ball around the middle of the pitch “offense.” Appearing to lull themselves into a bored stupor, some of the passes seemed to lose their sharpness, inviting their opponents to take play in the other direction.
When Ghana did make some moves in their offensive end, their play largely consisted of poorly targeted crosses and a few on-target shots from distance, giving Manuel Neuer slightly more to do in the first half than what he’s used to seeing while playing for Bayern München.
Then Ghana nearly made things a little too interesting Neuer in the 34th minute, when Asamoah Gyan streaked past Per Mertesacker and ended up in a one-on-one situation with Neuer. Gyan stayed wide of the goal a bit later than what might have seemed reasonable, considering he had no help trailing close enough to be of any use by the time he got too deep to have any options other than to beat the German keeper, who had charged out to meet Ghana’s striker. Somewhat inexplicably, Gyan tapped the ball to his left, beyond the reach of the diving Neuer, but also beyond the goal line.
The moment seemed to inject a bit of life into the sluggish sides, with offensive play looking more-threatening in the final third of the first half, though nothing to break the deadlock.
Jerome Boateng did not return for the second half due to muscle issues. In his stead came Shkodran Mustafi. Also, Müller and Götze appeared to swap roles in attack, with Müller going out on the flank and Götze moving into the middle.
And the Bayern swap paid dividends almost immediately.
Müller received a pass near the right corner of the penalty area and held his spot long enough for Götze to make it appear he would make a run toward the far post before cutting back toward the middle of the area to split center halves John Boye and Harrison Afful. Müller, unchallenged where he stood, crossed perfectly into the path of Götze’s run, where the long-time symbol of Germany’s stockpile of young talent touched the ball with his face down to his left knee, which beat Fatawu Dauda for the 1:0.
Ghana quickly made a change of their own, sending Jordan Ayew into the fray, replacing Kevin-Prince Boateng to make the score in Boateng brothers substituted level at 1:1.
That was apparently not enough for Ghana, however, Jordan Ayew’s brother, Andre, leaped over an inexplicably crouching Mustafi to reach an Afful cross (from about the mirror-image spot to where Müller delivered his) which only got that far because Mertesacker opted to duck out of the way rather than defend it. With nobody challenging Ayew in the air, the midfielder’s header was decisively driven past Neuer to give Germany their first goal-against of the tournament, erasing Ghana’s deficit within three minutes of their having fallen behind.
Whether it was Ghana being lifted by the equalizer or Germany being put on their heels by the stunning turn of events, the pitch seemed tilted toward Neuer’s goal for the next several minutes, a stretch that eventually led to a Philipp Lahm turnover near midfield, sparking a Muntari run into space and a through ball to Gyan, who streaked past Mertesacker, who had turned his back to Gyan to prepare to cut Muntari’s path to the goal and then lacked the pace to get back between the ball and Neuer. Gyan calmly lifted the ball over Neuer and into the net, launching Ghana fans and players into ecstatic celebration.
Germany had the look of a boxer on the ropes and Ghana continued to seek the knockout punch, though a huge chance just moments after the 2-1 went wanting when Jordan Ayew opted to shoot rather than find Gyan who was roaming free in space.
Jogi Löw made substitutions in consecutive minutes, the aforementioned entry of Klose for Götze coming just moments before Sami Khedira was brought off for Bastian Schweinsteiger.
And then, of course, the historic moment for Germany’s all-time scoring leader, providing the final entry onto the scoreboard.
One heck of a denoument
The final twenty minutes plus added time were a thrill to watch, with the inserted Schweinsteiger transfusing additional energy into his side to suppplement whatever boost was given by Klose’s equalizer. With the exception of a Ghana three-on-two chance that ended in an offsides call, Germany dominated the end phases of the match, with a Muntari yellow-carded challenge setting up a free kick just outside the penalty area for Germany to be the last action of the match and putting all viewers on the edge of their seats, prepared for the potentially epic finish.
But, when the whistle blew, the ball had not found its way into goal, and Müller lie on the pitch bleeding profusely after a collision in the race to get to the final ball of the day.
Likewise, Germany’s five-day run as “side most-likely to crush everyone” was left a bit bloodied by the end of the match, but also like Müller, will have plenty of chance to clean-up a bit and prepare to meet the next challenge, which comes Thursday against the United States, with Germany likely needing a victory in order to win the group.
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