Germany and England deliver, Ghana keep African flag flying
Germany and England will meet in a mouthwatering Round of 16 clash on Sunday in Bloemfontein after both sides secured final group round victories to progress to the World Cup's knockout stages, DPA reported.
Fabio Capello was rewarded for starting James Milner and Jermain Defoe as the pair combined in the first half to give England a 1-0 victory over Slovenia but the United States finished top of Group A thanks to a last-gasp winner from Landon Donovan against Algeria, who became the fourth African country to be knocked out.
With time running out for the US in Pretoria and the exit door looming, Defoe's first-half strike looked to have put England through as group winners until Donovan's late heroics in front of former US President Bill Clinton gave Bob Bradley's side a 1-0 win.
"We're not done yet," said a delighted Donovan.
"I have been through a lot in the last four years and I'm so glad that it culminated in this goal."
Bradley was full of praise for his captain, saying he had "grown in so many ways," both on and off the pitch.
"There was always a challenge of taking on a bigger role, being a leader of a team. He has accepted these challenges, he has matured and has had the chance to come back at the prime of his career," he said.
Germany avoided failing to make it out of the group stages for the first time in the country's history as Mesut Oezil's superb second- half strike secured a 1-0 win over Ghana at Soccer City.
However, with Australia surprising Serbia 2-1 in Nelspruit, Ghana still progress to the Round of 16 as the second-placed team in Group D where they face the Americans.
"We didn't want to lose. But in the end we are really just happy about reaching the second round," said Ghana defender Hans Sarpei.
"But most important is reaching the Round of 16."
Loew is certain to feel a little aggrieved that his side's reward for finishing top of the group is a tough match against old foes England, a task that has been all the more difficult by injury concerns over Jerome Boateng and midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger, who were both substituted in the second half against Ghana.
Boateng is struggling with a back problem but Loew appeared most concerned about Schweinsteiger, who was substituted with 10 minutes remaining with a thigh problem.
"I hope that his injury clears up in the coming days," said Loew. "If Schweinsteiger can't play, which I hope isn't the case, it would be a serious blow for us."
Capello also has injury concerns after Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney was unable to play the full 90 minutes.
"I subbed Wayne because his ankle was not so good he had some problems," revealed the Italian.
One Germany player Capello is certain to target for special attention is Ghana matchwinner Mesut Oezil, who took a late knock but looks certain to recover in time for the England game.
"It will be a tough game against England," said the Werder Bremen offensive midfielder. "They're a lot stronger than Ghana but we're convinced that we can win that game too."
While the West Africans and Germany celebrated, there was heartbreak for Serbia who missed out on progressing after going down 2-1 to Australia.
Serbia went into the game as favourites to go through and had enough chances in the first half to have secured qualification with ease but all hope went after the Socceroos struck with second-half goals from Tim Cahill and Brett Holman.
Substitute Marko Pantelic pulled one back for Serbia but it was too little too late.
"We are totally frustrated. I have no words to describe the feeling. Our big mistake was to not take the chances we made in the first half," he said.
Apart from ensuring at least one African side remains in the tournament, the match in Soweto also made footballing history when Jerome Boateng and his half-brother, Kevin-Prince Boateng, become the first brothers to play against each other at a World Cup.
Kevin-Prince, 23, was making his third start in Ghana's midfield, while 21-year-old Jerome made his tournament debut after warming the bench in Germany's first two Group D encounters.
While Portsmouth's Kevin-Prince was a stand-out player at youth levels up to the under-21s for Germany, he turned last year to Ghana because of his treatment and what he saw as his lack of international prospects.
Brother Jerome is currently under contract at SV Hamburg but moves to Manchester City for the upcoming season.