Germany spent the first hour of Wednesday night's match struggling to break down a defensively determined Ghana. Then Mesut Oezil showed his class, and it was all over.
Oezil's goal lifted an ordinary Germany over Ghana
Germany's win over Ghana that earned them a place in the knock-out stage of the 2010 FIFA World Cup was not a thing of beauty. But there was a beautiful moment within it.
In fact, for long stretches Germany appeared to be the lesser of the two teams on the pitch - less disciplined in defense, and less potent and incisive up front.
But as good a fight as Ghana put up on Wednesday in Johannesburg, they had no answer for Mesut Oezil - and certainly no player who could have done so much with so little space and time as the Werder Bremen playmaker on his dazzling 60th minute goal.
Ghana's canny defensive tactics had frustrated Germany until then. The Black Stars sat very deep in their own half, and crowded Germany's offense into ineffectuality by keeping a very compact defensive shape.
When Germany were in possession, their back four formed a tight line across the edge of the penalty area, while three of its midfielders formed a second buffer just a few meters in front. With seven men deep in defense, Ghana were prepared to swarm all over whatever Germany sent their way.
It was a recipe that had stymied Germany again and again, and drawn them on a couple of occasions to devote perhaps too many players into the final third in an effort to unpick the lock. Ghana sprang a number of convincing counter-attacks as a result.
Ghana frustrated Germany through the first hour, never giving them the space they craved
As it turned out, strength in numbers was not the key for Germany in producing the chance that put them over the top. It was all about patience, timing, and the kind of shooting technique few players possess.
On the hour mark Thomas Mueller, on the right wing, first dribbled toward the touchline before his path was blocked by his marker. He turned and cut inside, drawing a Ghanaian central defender toward him. Seeing Oezil in space, Mueller fed him with a crisp pass on the floor.
The ball took a hop off of Oezil's first touch, but he was locked in - aware that this might be his best chance to get a shot off unmolested. While the ball bounced, he stole a quick glance at the positioning of Ghana's keeper, Richard Kingson. That done, Oezil was ready.
To say Oezil struck the ball well would be an insult. He struck it marvelously; something near to perfectly. Before the ball made full contact with the earth, and precisely as it came in line with his plant foot, Oezil sent the Jabulani on a dipping ride to the top left corner of the goal. Kingson was helpless.
Oezil's shot was exemplary, as was his determination to make up for his earlier miss
Oezil's goal saved Germany's World Cup campaign, and may have saved the Gelsenkirchen native a string of sleepless nights. He had been put through one-on-one with the keeper in the 25th minute of the match, and failed to score.
After getting the win, it was still on Oezil's mind.
"I should have made it 1-0 in the first half," he said. "I really was down after I blew that chance, but I knew I would score a goal today. I had space in front of me, so I just shot the thing."
"If we bring the kind of effort we showed today, we can beat England too," he added.
What's not clear is if Oezil will be part of that effort against England on Sunday. He went the distance against Ghana, but limped off the field as the referee blew full time. Asisstant coach Hansi Flick said, though, that he believed it was just a cramp.
Fans all over Germany will be crossing their fingers - or squeezing their thumbs, as they themselves would have it - that Oezil is fit and ready for the weekend.
With him in top form, anything is possible.
Author: Matt Hermann
Editor: Sarah Harman