Germany's immaculate record of always qualifying from the initial group stages of a World Cup remained intact last night as they booked a last-16 match with England in Bloemfontein on Sunday. But Fabio Capello will have been encouraged by a number of defensive lapses from Joachim Löw's side – and the sight of Bastian Schweinsteiger clutching his thigh on the sidelines after being substituted in the second half.
A solitary goal from man-of-the-match Mesut Ozil was enough to ensure that Germany topped Group D, with Ghana also going through as runners-up, but afterwards Löw agreed that England would be a huge challenge — despite the stop-stop-start nature of their World Cup campaign so far.
• Follow the Guardian's World Cup team on Twitter• Sign up to play our great Fantasy Football game• Stats centre: Get the lowdown on every player• The latest team-by-team news, features and more"I don't know why England have been so inconsistent, but I think it's quite normal," Löw said. "But some teams only pick up speed through the tournament. England have not shown form so far but make no mistake this is a wonderful team with an enormous amount of experience."
"With players like Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Wayne Rooney this English team is going to be incredibly dangerous," he added. "Rooney might not have been a big gun so far but he is always liable to explode. He is very difficult to mark and keep under control and our defence will be hard put to make sure he doesn't score."
Low also revealed afterwards that all three of his substitutions – Schweinsteiger, Ozil and Jérôme Boateng were made due to injuries – but said it was too early to tell whether they would be fit to face England.
"Boateng has back injury, Ozil took a knock early on and Bastian has a muscle problem," he said. "I hope Bastian won't suffer as I took him off early enough. Our doctors will assess these injuries but of course if Bastian was to miss the England game it would not benefit us."
Beforehand the Ghana coach, Milovan Rajevac, claimed his team would be happy with a goalless draw, a result that would ensure they became the first African team to reach the knockout stages in this World Cup. But for large parts of the game his side gave as good as they got.
Germany had the better of possession in the first half, and should have gone ahead when Ozil was played through by Cacau only shoot at the sprawling frame of Richard Kingson. But Ghana caused problems on the break, particularly down the left flank. They created chances too, with Asamoah Gyan's header cleared off the line by Philip Lahm, and Kwadwo Asamoah hitting a one-on-one too close to the onrushing Manuel Neuer.
Shortly after half-time Ghana switched to five at the back in an attempt to stop Germany working the ball down the flanks. It looked an almost an open invitation for Löw's side to push forward. From the right Thomas Müller slipped a pass across to Ozil, who looked up before hitting the football equivalent of baseball slider high into the net.
"I got a good ball in from Müller, got a nice touch on it and just smashed it in," explained Ozil. "But it's going to be tough against England. They're stronger than Ghana but if we put our strength in the field we will win that match too."
When news came through that Australia had scored against Serbia both teams knew they were in the box seat as regards qualification, and the intensity of the game dulled — although Lahm had to dash across from the right to make a desperate block from Dede Ayew.
Not that Rajevac was too disappointed afterwards. "We knew from the very beginning it would be a very difficult match but we held our own," he said. "Germany had to fight hard to win and they are one of the strongest teams in the world. They scored when I thought we were in control.
"But that most important thing is we survived the group stage. The match is just over but we don't have enough time to be enthusiastic because the next game against the USA is just round the corner."
This game created history as Ghana's Kevin-Prince Boateng and Germany's Jérôme Boateng — who share the same father but have different mothers — became the first brothers to have play on opposing sides in a full international. The smiles and warm handshakes afterwards suggested all parties were content with their night's work, but bigger targets and greater pressures lie in wait.
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