Consolation for Australia
Goals from Tim Cahill and Brett Holman have guided the Qantas Socceroos to a 2-1 win,but it wasn't enough to get the Qantas Socceroos through to the knockout stages of the tournament.
By Bren O'Brien in Nelspruit Sportal
Goals from Tim Cahill and Brett Holman have guided Australia to a 2-1 win over Serbia in its final group game of the World Cup in Nelspruit, but it wasn't enough to get the Qantas Socceroos through to the knockout stages of the tournament.
Goal difference thwarted Australia's hopes of getting through to the second round as it finished level on points with Ghana, but had a goal difference of minus-three to the Africans' zero.
In a performance full of character, Cahill scored with a header in the 69th minute before Holman hit a superb long-range strike four minutes later to give Australia hope of turning around the goal difference on Ghana. However, a goalkeeping error from an otherwise excellent Mark Schwarzer allowed Marko Pantelic to pull one back for Serbia in the 84th minute.
Ghana was able to hold on for a 1-0 loss to Germany, meaning it becomes the only African nation to progress to the final 16, while Australia goes home with its head held high after a valiant attempt to win its way through.
Serbia clearly had the best of the early exchanges and twice tested Schwarzer out inside the first 30 minutes. Milos Krasic broke clear for the first chance after a turnover from Mark Bresciano on 13 minutes, but Schwarzer steered the Serbian winger wide and the shot was wayward.
The next chance also came down the left nine minutes later with Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic finding himself one-on-one with the Australia keeper, but Schwarzer was equal to the task. Dejan Stankovic and Nikola Zigic also had half-chances, but failed to find the net.
Australia's two best opportunities came late in the half, both from headers. Bresciano found enough space to deliver a cross for Cahill, but the Qantas Socceroos midfielder went wide with his shot. Josh Kennedy headed a shot straight at the keeper with a free header in the final minutes after he and Cahill has mucked up an earlier chance set up by David Carney.
Serbia again dominated early in the second half, but Zigic was having a frustrating evening and headed over an excellent chance.
It was then that Australia enjoyed its best period of the game with Jason Culina trying his hand from range along with Bresciano, who forced an error from Vladamir Stijkovic but both his team-mates were offside on the follow-up.
In a bid to push for the win, Pim Verbeek brought on Scott Chipperfield and Holman for Carl Valeri and Bresciano. The move re-invigorated Australia and when Luke Wilkshire sent in a long cross from the right, Cahill rose superbly over Nemanja Vidic and netted his 21st goal for his country.
Daring to dream of a miraculous turnaround, Australia pressed forward and Holman took aim from some 30 metres. It wasn't a powerful shot, but it was accurate, leaving Stojkovic no hope of saving.
It was Holman's second goal in as many games and this tournament maybe viewed as the moment he announced himself as the start of the next generation of Qantas Socceroos.
Suddenly, the game got frantic, with Australia pushing for a heavy win to get back into calculations. However, it came at an expense with Serbia able to hit the Qantas Socceroos on the counter -attack. Substitute Zoran Tosic worked himself some space, fired in a shot which proved too hot for Schwarzer. Pantelic was there to knock home the shot and Australia's hopes were all but dashed.
Serbia was back in the hunt to get through, with a draw enough for it to overtake Ghana. Pantelic had a clear chance in the final minutes, but shot over. Up the other end, Australia continued to press but the best efforts of both Kennedy and Culina could not increase the lead.
In the end Australia finished with the same points as it did four years ago in Germany, but the magnitude of its opening 4-0 loss to the German team in Durban proved the difference between progressing and going home.
Australia 2 (Cahill 69, Holman 73) Serbia 1 (Pantelic 84) At Mbomela Stadium, Nelspruit