Asamoah Gyan’s 84th-minute penalty decided a close-fought match at Loftus Versfeld stadium after Zdravko Kuzmanovic had handled a cross in the area.
There was little to separate the two sides during the encounter, although Ghana were given a boost in the 74th minute when Serbia lost Aleksandar Lukovic to a red card.
Somewhat surprisingly, Serbia actually looked the more likely goalscorers for a period after that dismissal, but it was Ghana who would take the spoils thanks to man-of-the-match Gyan.
Ghana’s Serbian coach Rajevac said after the game: “I congratulate Serbia, they played very well, and of course I congratulate my team. They played well until the end.
“Serbia are a very good team, with very good individual players. They played a wise game today, perhaps we got more lucky than them because we scored one goal and we obtained three points today. I hope Serbia can pick up six point from their next two games.”
Rajevac, who was up against his friend and compatriot Radomir Antic on the Serbia bench, added: “This was a very difficult game, difficult to coach. There were two different styles of playing, we had to be focused throughout the game, so it was a very difficult game from a technical point of view. We had to maintain our level of concentration to win such a game.”
The win puts Ghana in a strong position to make it through to the knockout stages in what is only their second appearance at the World Cup.
For Serbia, playing in their first World Cup finals as an independent nation, ’s loss leaves them with an uphill battle as they have to play Germany next.
Reflecting on the match, coach Antic felt the dismissal of Lukovic, a decision he described as harsh, changed the course of the encounter.
Lukovic was shown his second yellow card of the match for pulling back Gyan.
Antic said: “I wouldn’t say we got scared, I would say it’s normal to be under great tension at the beginning of the World Cup.
“And this is a game where at no point did we have any particular problems. Of course the fact that Lukovic got removed from the game was a tough measure, as well as the yellow card to (Nikola) Zigic. This of course had an influence on the final result.”
He added: “There was a lot of respect between the teams and one mistake (the penalty) made the difference, but before that we had several opportunities to score a goal and I think there was a lot of tension throughout the game. I think what made the difference was that our opponents were more lucky than us.”