NELSPRUIT, South Africa — After a match that wound up meaning very little, both Australia and Serbia reflected on what might have been.
Tim Cahill and Brett Holman scored second-half goals Wednesday to help Australia beat Serbia 2-1 in Group D of the World Cup. But both teams did not advance to the second round.
Marko Pantelic pulled a goal back for Serbia, which finished last with three points, one behind Australia. Ghana got second place on goal differential (even to minus-3) over the Aussies. Germany won the group.
Cahill put the Australians ahead with a glancing header off Luke Wilkshire's cross in the 69th minute and Holman added the second from long range 4 minutes later.
Australia, which made the second round four years ago and lost to eventual champion Italy, was undone by its 4-0 loss to the Germans in the opener.
"I'm just disappointed we don't go through. We have four points, I thought it might be enough," coach Pim Verbeek said. "In the end the goal difference against Germany killed us."
Australia's defense was torn apart by Germany's wings in its opening 4-0 defeat and Serbia'a early attacks were concentrated outside through Milos Krasic and Milan Jovanovic.
But the Serbs, who beat Germany in their previous game, couldn't solve Aussie goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer until it was too late.
"We did our best, everything we could," coach Radomir Antic said. "This was a good game and I can't reproach my players, as we had plenty of chances that we didn't take. In the end, we deserved more than what we got and now we have to go back home."
Serbia should have scored in the 12th minute when Milos Ninkovic broke down the middle of the field after an Australia corner kick. He put Krasic clear, but the winger was forced wide by Schwarzer and shot off-target.
Schwarzer also did well to block Branislav Ivanovic's shot from close range, while Nikola Zigic missed on a free header in the first half.
Krasic was jeered until his substitution after an hour by Australian supporters in the crowd who thought he dived looking for a penalty in the second minute.
Australia started the second half well, and Mark Bresciano, Cahill and Jason Culina all tried their luck from distance.
Cahill broke through with a trademark header, then substitute Holman doubled the lead as Australia dominated.
Pantelic's late goal made for a frantic finale. An equalizer would have put the Serbs through, but Australia's defense held firm.
"It was a great result and great performance," Verbeek said. "But we are not in the final 16 and that was the plan when we came here to South Africa.
"We can't blame any of the players who did a great job and worked hard when everyone thought it was over."