COLOGNE (AFP) - Ghana produced the shock of the World Cup so far as they sliced apart the highly fancied Czech Republic 2-0 and threw Group E wide open leaving the Euro 2004 semi-finalists' World Cup hopes teetering on the brink.
The Czech Republic would have been humiliated were it not for a slew of close range saves from Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech, especially after they were reduced to ten men when Tomas Ujfalusi was sent off in the 67th minute.
But Ghana's Asamoah Gyan - scorer of their first goal while Sulley Muntari got the other late in the game - also bounced the resulting penalty off the post, in the only flaw in an otherwise brilliant afternoon for the Ghanaians in their first ever World Cup finals.
However Gyan's penalty was even more costly to him as having taken one effort when the referee hadn't whistled he was booked for that and will miss their final group match against the United States.
"He (the referee) didn't tell me anything, perhaps he doesn't speak English. I am sorry to the fans and the team because I am very important to my team and my country," said Gyan.
Ghana's much-travelled coach Ratomir Dujkovic said he could hardly believe the scoreline was so conservative.
"I'm surprised because it's only 2-0. But we have to calm down. The Africans are emotional people. The next match will be the most important of my career (against the United States)," said 60-year-old Dujkovic, who guided Rwanda to an African Nations Cup finals for the first time in their history in 2004.
"We weren't the favourites for the game. But I said Ghana could probably be a surprising team."
Midfielder Paul Boateng said that a place in the last 16 would be like a dream come true.
"That's our aim, it would be fantastic for us and we're looking forward to that, because it's very important for us and the whole country, the whole of Africa," said Boateng, who came on in the second half.
After Dukjovic surprisingly dropped one of their most experienced players, Roma defender Sammy Kuffour, the Ghanaians made little bones of their tactics from the kick off.
Gyan beat the Czech offside trap in the second minute on a through ball from inpirational captain Stephen Appiah, shooting it low past the outstretched Cech.
Gyan, who is on loan to Modena from Udinese where Muntari plays, said that the Black Stars had learnt a lot from their opening 2-0 defeat by Italy.
"It can happen in football that you miss goals," said the 20-year-old, who made his debut against Somalia in 2003.
"But we went back and corrected our mistakes."
"You can see that everything was great, everything went well today."
The Black Star's forwards, fed by precise passing from Michael Essien and Appiah repeatedly cut through the Czech's flat-footed defensive line with their speed.
The Czechs were lucky not to be three down by half-time after Gyan again broke through but Cech saved at his feet, while Appiah shot narrowly wide with only the keeper to beat.
Failing to recover the form that defeated the United States 3-0, the injury-hit Czechs suffered from having only one striker, veteran Vratislav Lovkenc not matching the effectiveness of the injured duo Jan Koller and Milan Baros, and lacked the cutting edge they needed to stretch the occasionally shaky Ghanaian defence.
In contrast with the lethal accuracy and pace of Ghana's packed midfield the Czechs desperately lacked deft footwork in their opponents' penalty area.
"This match didn't start well for us. After we got the player sent off, it was very difficult and after the second goal we couldn't do much more," said Czech coach Karel Bruckner
"The Ghanaian players are really skilful with the ball. They were splendid in their attacks," he added.
Ghana had trouble picking up Tomas Rosicky's runs through the middle, but the Arsenal bound midfielder shot wide after a beautiful move involving Pavel Nedved and fellow veteran Karel Poborsky.
But the "Black Stars" repeatedly capitalised on the nervous-looking Czechs' inability to retain possession in midfield.
Cech was forced into a brilliant save from Gyan after the Modena forward latched onto a goalkick that bounced past the Czech defenders.
However any Czech hopes faded half way through the second half when Ujfalusi - whose missed header in the first-half had let in Gyan for the goal - was sent off for bringing down Matthew Amoah in the penalty area.
Cech then beat off a peppering of shots over the next 20 minutes from the unbridled Essien, Gyan, and Appiah, until he finally succumbed to Muntari in the 82nd minute.