Harry Kewell not only declared himself fit for this game, he said he was ready to play for 90 minutes, but such things do not happen, even in topsy-turvy Group D. Kewell lasted just 24 minutes before finding a new way to clock off early, handling a Jonathan Mensah shot on the line to earn Australia's second red card of a tournament they still look like leaving, even if this battling point gives them a fighting chance.
He did not like the decision much, protesting with some justification that a fiercely hit shot from close range had hit him on the arm without giving him a chance to get out of the way, but the difficulty for Roberto Rosetti was that a goalbound shot had been stopped by an arm, whether the arm moved towards the ball or not. The laws demanded it had to be a penalty, and once that decision was made the present regulations insist a sending off must follow.
Kewell trooped angrily out of the arena, fit for another 70 minutes or so but forced to sit and watch, while Asamoah Gyan stuck away the penalty to bring Ghana level. It was no more than Ghana deserved, if only for the perseverance Dede Ayew had shown in setting up Mensah's shooting opportunity, though going a player down was undoubtedly harsh.
"It was a clear case of ball to hand, what can you do?" Pim Verbeek, the Australia coach, said. "You cannot cut your arm off and the ball came so fast. I thought it had to be intentional handball to be a penalty, and it is very hard to say it was that. Harry is devastated, as you would expect. When you have been working for six months to get to a World Cup you want it to last longer than 25 minutes."
Against all expectation Australia had taken the lead after 11 minutes, with Richard Kingson joining the goalkeeping hall of shame by fumbling a shot almost as badly as Robert Green did for England in the same net.
At least there was some power behind Mark Bresciano's free‑kick, yet even so the Wigan reserve should have done better than let the ball bounce off his chest and into the danger area to leave Brett Holman with an easy follow-up. Ghana's coach, Milovan Rajevac, diplomatically avoided a question about whether the goalkeeper or the ball was to blame, instead raising the entirely reasonable point that it should not have been a free‑kick in the first place.
Australia have a rather better goalkeeper in Mark Schwarzer, and they had him to thank for keeping the scores level before half time after he dived to his right to keep out Kevin-Prince Boateng's effort. The Fulham keeper was in action again at the start of the second half, stopping a shot from Gyan, though for the next 20 minutes his life got easier rather than more hectic as Ghana began to waste their numerical superiority with hopelessly optimistic shots from distance.
Australia even had a chance to regain the lead when Scott Chipperfield came on and immediately put a header over the bar, and really should have gone in front when Luke Wilkshire found himself one on one with Kingson and failed to take advantage.
By the time Nikita Rukavytsya just failed to beat Kingson to the ball two minutes from the end it was fair to say Australia had had the better of the second-half chances, though Mensah did flash a header wide in the last minute of normal time and Quincy Owusu Abeyie brought a last-ditch tip over the bar from Schwarzer.
Facing a barrage of questions afterwards about whether Ghana had just passed up a golden opportunity to secure qualification against 10 men, Rajevac joined Verbeek in paying tribute to the Australian spirit.
"I congratulate Australia," he said. "Even with 10 men they defended very well, and after making a bad start I am not unhappy with this result. Of course we wanted to win, but even with six points we would still have had to try to take something from the Germany game, so I do not believe too much has been lost."
Ghana have still to score a goal from open play, but Rajevac is not worried about that either. "If we draw against Germany we go through, and I would be more than happy to draw nil-nil," he said. "We all know what Germany are, but they lost against Serbia so anything is still possible."
The final outcome, after the wackiest game in the wackiest of groups, is that just about any permutation can still come about. Craig Moore will miss the next match after picking up another booking, but so might John Paintsil, who needed emergency treatment for profuse bleeding after a dreadful clash of heads with one of his own players right at the end of the game.
Ghana will now need to take something from Germany, Australia must defeat Serbia, and they can only be encouraged after this. Not only do they have Tim Cahill back, they can look forward to another Wigan reserve goalkeeper in Vladimir Stojkovic. "We've got to go for it, and we need to score plenty of goals in case Germany beat Ghana," Verbeek said.
"We're still in it and fighting," said Lucas Neill, his captain. "We said we would come back, and we have. Don't write us off, and I don't think the country will give up on us either. We're in it until the end."
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