RUSTENBURG, South Africa: Ghana edged clear at the top of World Cup Group D after an exciting 1-1 draw with ten-man Australia at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium on Saturday.
The Ghanaians moved a point above Germany and Serbia after fighting off a determined bid by the Australians, who lost striker Harry Kewell to a red card in a sensational first-half penalty incident.
The Australians, trying to rebuild their World Cup campaign after a shattering 4-0 first-up loss to Germany, now have the tough task of trying to beat Serbia on Wednesday and hope Germany are beaten by Ghana to reach the knockout round.
The athletic Ghanaians hit back to cancel out Australia`s 11th-minute opener with striker Asamoah Gyan`s 25th-minute penalty and both teams had chances at either end to win the pulsating encounter.
Kewell was red carded for handling on the line of Gyan`s fierce goal-bound shot - the ball hitting his upper arm.
Italian referee Roberto Rosetti immediately pulled out the red card as Kewell and his Australian teammates remonstrated his decision.
Gyan sent Mark Schwarzer the wrong way with his penalty attempt to level the game and leave Australia to play a man down for the remainder of the match.
It was the second red card of the tournament for the Australians, who had Tim Cahill sent off against Germany.
"We have to beat Serbia by three goals now. It will be difficult but we are still in the race," said Australia coach Pim Verbeek.
"Even with 10 men we kept fighting and fighting all the time. For a penalty it had to be a deliberate handball. I couldn`t see it, but we can`t change it. We just have to go again."
Gyan said he was happy his team recovered from a slow start.
"It was a slow first 15 minutes and they had a good start, but we came back into it," he said.
Ghana coach Milovan Rajevac praised Australia`s spirited performance and said he was not too disappointed with his side`s failure to capitalise on their numerical advantage.
"The result is quite good as well. Even if we had won the match we would have needed a point against Germany to go through."
Rajevac added: "It shows that there is no game won in advance at the World Cup. All we can regret is having so many chances but not scoring. But that is football."
Australia got a lucky break early on when attacking midfielder Brett Holman, replacing the suspended Cahill, scored off Mark Bresciano`s free kick in the 11th minute.
Bresciano`s free kick cleared Ghana`s defensive wall and the ball bounced awkwardly off goalkeeper Richard Kingson`s chest into the path of Holman, who tucked away the rebound for his third international goal.
Coach Pim Verbeek brought on Scott Chipperfield and Josh Kennedy to go up front with 20 minutes left as Australia searched for the winner.
The Australians took the game to Ghana and had a glorious chance in the 72nd minute when both Luke Wilkshire and Kennedy fired their shots at Kingson with a goal beckoning.
Ghana went into the match without skipper John Mensah, who failed a late fitness test and was replaced by teenager Jonathan Mensah, while centre-back partner Isaac Vorsah was left out for Lee Addy.
Kewell and Mark Bresciano were among four changes in the Australia side.
The two sides have now met on seven occasions with Australia winning four and Ghana two.
BDST: 1205hrs, June 20, 2010