Clint Dempsey, left, of the U.S. and Kevin-Prince Boateng of Ghana will be key in Saturday's round-of-16 clash.
The U.S. and Ghana tangle in a round-of-16 game Saturday in Rustenburg, South Africa.
The Americans overcame poor starts to tie England and Slovenia, but the poor call by Malian referee Koman Coulibaly to rob Fontana's Maurice Edu of a winning goal against the Slovenes rallied the nation behind the U.S. team, and the must-win triumph over Algeria -- captured with a stoppage-time goal by Redlands' Landon Donovan -- released a wave of ecstasy over U.S. fans and opened a pliable path to the semifinals.
No Essien, no problem. The Black Stars weren't given a lot of respect heading into the World Cup without Chelsea midfielder Michael Essien, but a young, mobile squad stunned Serbia in its opener and did just enough against Australia and in a loss to Germany to secure its second successive second-round berth. As the only African team to advance in Africa's first World Cup, Ghana carries the hopes and dreams of a continent.
Group C winner with 1 win and 2 draws:
June 12 at Rustenburg: 1-1 vs. England (Clint Dempsey scores, on Robert Green's miscue, in the 40th minute after Steven Gerrard gives England an early advantage)
June 18 at Johannesburg: 2-2 vs. Slovakia (Landon Donovan tallies in the 48th minute and Michael Bradley in the 82nd to overcome a 2-0 deficit on first-half goals by Valter Birsa and Zlatan Ljubijankic)
June 23 at Tshwane/Pretoria: 1-0 vs. Algeria (on Donovan's stoppage-time winner)
Group D runner-up, to Germany, with 1 win, 1 loss and 1 draw:
June 13 at Tshwane/Pretoria: 1-0 vs. Serbia (Asamoah Gyan converts 85th-minute penalty kick)
June 19 at Rustenburg: 1-1 vs. Australia (Gyan converts 25th-minute penalty kick to answer Brett Holman's 11th-minute opener for the Socceroos)
June 23 at Johannesburg/Soweto: 0-1 vs. Germany (Mesut Oezil scores the only goal, in the 60th minute)
This is the Americans' ninth World Cup (overall record: 7-16-5) and their sixth in a row. They reached the semifinals in 1930, the round of 16 in 1994 and the quarterfinals in 2002.
This is the Black Stars' second World Cup (overall record: 3-3-1). They reached the round of 16 in their debut four years ago.
THE MEN IN CHARGE
Bob Bradley: The Princeton-educated coach, who served as former U.S. boss (and current Galaxy head coach) Bruce Arena's top assistant at the University of Virginia, with the 1996 Atlanta Olympics squad and with D.C. United, got the job after the 2006 World Cup when German legend Juergen Klinsmann broke off talks with U.S. Soccer. Bradley, 52, won an MLS Cup title with the expansion Chicago Fire in 1998 and was head coach with the MetroStars and Chivas USA before taking charge of the national team, at first on an interim basis. He's soft-spoken but intense, a thoughtful coach who preaches team unity, demands accountability and pays attention to the details. One of his brothers , Scott, was a major-league catcher for the Chicago White Sox, Seattle Mariners, New York Yankees and Cincinnati Reds, and the other, Jeff, writes for ESPN The Magazine.
Milovan Rajevac: The little-known Serbian tactician has turned Ghana into the most astute team from Africa, feeding off a rigid 4-3-2-1 system that eliminates the need for superstars. After his 2008 appointment, he guided the Black Stars through its last four qualifiers without surrendering a goal, took a secondary squad to the African Cup of Nations final, and made Nigeria the only African nation aside from Nigeria to advance from the World Cup's group stages more than once. Like Bradley, he's big on team chemistry and has molded Ghana into a tight-knit group on and off the field. He played a season in the 1980s for the New York Arrows in the Major Indoor Soccer League and was a defender for primarily minor Serbian clubs, with a short stint with powerhouse Red Star Belgrade. He has coached at four of the clubs he played for: Sloboda Uzice, Red Star, FK Vojvodina and Borac Cacak.
THREE PLAYERS TO WATCH
Landon Donovan: Speedy attacker, playing on the right flank but with the freedom to go where he pleases, is the talismanic presence for the U.S. His goal (and celebration, if that's what you'd call it, afterward) at the start of the second half against Slovenia lifted the U.S. to another level, and he set up the Americans' next two goals, including the one that didn't count. And we know all about his heroics against Algeria.
Michael Bradley: The rugged central midfielder has an understanding of the game you might expect from the coach's son, but there's a fire in him that enables him to raise his game at critical moments. A tough defender capable of finishing on forays forward.
Tim Howard: Best goalkeeper in the world? That's pushing things a bit --- he's not even America's best goalkeeper, but UCLA alum Brad Friedel retired from the international game after the 2002 World Cup -- but he's in that upper tier of great netminders, and his play in South Africa, from the stops against England to the long throw to start the winning sequence against Algeria, has been superb.
Asamoah Gyan: U.S. captain Carlos Bocanegra's teammate at Stade Rennes is a natural goal scorer -- he had the first Ghanaian goal at the 2006 World Cup and at the last two African Cups of Nations -- and he's got both of the Black Stars' goals. That both are from the penalty spot shouldn't define him: He's quick, skillful and deadly in the box, and if he gets free in the attacking third, watch out.
John Mensah: The Black Stars' captain, not to be confused with fellow defender Jonathan Mensah, is called “The Rock of Gibraltar” at home, credit to his muscular build and solid performances in central defense. He missed the Australia game because of a niggling injury after contributing mightily to the Serbia shutout, but returned with a strong showing in the loss to Germany.
Sulley Muntari: The silkily skilled, Italy-based midfielder, who missed the 2006 meeting with the U.S. to suspension, has come off the bench in the past two games for the Black Stars but could be in the starting XI on Saturday. He's a tempestuous player who was sent home from the 2004 Athens Olympics for disciplinary reasons and left off the African Cup of Nations roster in January after refusing to play in a friendly last November, then skipping a meeting with Rajevac afterward. Rajevac decided to expel him from the team after an outburst following the Australia game but relented after Muntari apologized.
THREE KEYS TO THE GAME
1. Play for 90 minutes with the kind of intensity and energy that drove the second-half comeback against Slovenia and the dominant display in the victory over Algeria.
2. Play tighter at the back -- leave no holes for Asamoah Gyan to exploit and eliminate silly mistakes -- and contain Ghana's mobile, fluid midfield.
3. Take care of the chances. If the Yanks miss as many opportunities as they did against Algeria, they will not beat Ghana.
1. Use interchanging patterns in midfield to force the U.S. to chase the game, to open space in the final third and breach the Americans' backline to set up chances for Gyan.
2. Be aware at all times of Landon Donovan, limit his ability to provide service from the flank and nullify his effectiveness when he cuts inside.
3. Use advantages in speed, athleticism and physicality to set the tone and dictate the pace of the game.
United States 2, Ghana 1