The opening Group G match for the USA in the FIFA World Cup has finally delivered a victory over Ghana. Ghana had knocked the US out of the previous two tournaments and hold a 4-0 record over the Americans. After Portugal’s loss to Germany earlier today, both the USA and the Black Stars needed a win in this game for any chance to escape the group of death.
The United States jumped out to a quick 1-0 lead on an exciting Clint Dempsey goal 34 seconds into the match. The shot came off of a throw-in to Dempsey and the result immediately shell-shocked the Black Stars and ignited the US fans in attendance at Estadio das Dunas in Natal. Dempsey has now scored in three different World Cup tournaments. After the early goal, the USA remained on the attack, keeping the pressure on the African squad. Close to 10 minutes into the game, the United States settled down their play and much like Germany in the earlier Group G game, took control in the back field. The idea was to maintain control of the ball and look for smart passes to capitalize on any mistakes by the Black Stars.
This offensive move by the Americans did give the ball to the Ghana team opportunities. These chances were either stopped cold by goalkeeper Tim Howard, lost to the US defense or called offside. In the 17th minute, the Black Stars had the best look at netting the team’s first goal, however the cross flew a bit too high to connect for a scoring attempt. The United States responded quickly with an attack on goal by Jozy Altidore that came up short to the Black Star’s defense. In the 20th minute, on Altidore’s next strong attack, the forward grabbed at his left hamstring and collapsed onto the pitch. Altidore was carried off the pitch on a stretcher and was replaced in the line-up with AZ Alkmaar club teammate Aron Johannsson. This casts early doubt on the decision by coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s not invite Eddie Johnson to camp and the cutting of Landon Donovan from the 23-man roster for just this possibility.
After the injury to Altidore, Ghana went onto the attack, trying to capitalize on the shake up to the US team on the field. In the 29th minute, Ghana’s Mohammed Rabiu drew the first yellow card of the match for a hard mid-air collision with Kyle Beckerman. Soon after Dempsey received a kick to the face from John Boye as both players took to the air after the ball. A shaken up Dempsey had to step off of the pitch momentarily to receive attention to a bloody nose before returning to the pitch for the remainder of the game. Throughout the rest of the first half, both teams played hard on the pitch. However, the Black Stars were unable to equalize the game and the US was unable to add to the 1-0 lead.
Unlike the earlier Group G game between Portugal and Germany, the USA and Ghana match up appears very even. The US came out with more discipline while the Black Stars brought a more physical type of play to the game. When the teams headed to the locker room, there was no word on the status of the injury to Altidore or if the US forward will be able to continue over the remainder of the FIFA World Cup. With a 1-0 lead, the United States will now work to keep the Black Stars off of the score sheet and preserve a victory.
When the second half started, John Brooks entered the game for Matt Besler for tightness in the hamstring. The substitution was a precautionary move by Klinsmann with a 1-0 lead starting the second half. With the first half injury to Altidore and Besler taken out, the USA did not come out to start the second half with the same attitude that the team started the game with. The Black Stars came out with a bit more offense, forcing Howard to fight hard to keep a clean sheet for the match. In the first 15 minutes of the second half, Howard made strong stops and kept the Ghana team out of the goal and off the scoreboard.
To help Howard during the second half, the US backfield stepped up. While the US goalkeeper made important saves in the half, the defense helped deflect shots and passes from making it to the US goal. At the 65th minute of the game, the US went into a survival mode, just doing what the squad can to keep the Black Stars from equalizing the game, all while trying to start an US counter attack. Every time Ghana would get the ball in scoring range, the United States defense would swarm the ball and break up the offensive attack by the African team.
In the 77th minute, Alejandro Bedoya was replaced by Graham Zusi and the Black Stars replaced Christian Atsu with Albert Adomah in an effort to bring fresh legs into the offense of both squads. Immediately after the substitution, Dempsey found his first opportunity for a shot attempt since early in the first half. However, the shot was blocked by Ghana goalkeeper. Adam Kwarsey. The Black Stars came back from that shot attempt and equalized the game with a 82nd minute goal from Andre Ayew.
Then the US struck the go ahead goal in the 85th minute. A corner kick from Zusi right into the center of the box was found by the head of John Brooks, who headed the ball down past the Kwarsey to return the USA to the lead. This was the first World Cup goal ever by a United States substitute. The Black Stars went into a desperation mode for the last few minutes of the game. Frustration for the Black Stars set in as Sulley Muntari collided hard in extra time with Dempsey, drawing Ghana’s second yellow card of the match.
The 2-1 Group G victory for the USA over Ghana was the first time the American team had defeated the African team in the FIFA World Cup. This gives the US 3-points in group play along with Germany. Portugal and Ghana both have no points after the first group games. The US will face the injury plagued Portugal team in six days and Ghana will have a tough follow-up game against Germany.
Commentary by Carl Auer