Americans take momentum into rematch
US v Ghana, Today, 7.30pm, ITV1, Rustenburg
Saturday 26 June 2010
There are nearly 600 miles separating Pretoria from Port Elizabeth but news of Landon Donovan's stoppage-time goal in the Loftus Versfeld travelled with the speed of a thunderclap. It meant that, of the two teams who were swapping shirts on the pitch, Slovenia were now out of the World Cup and England suddenly found themselves thrown towards Germany's cold embrace.
It was, however, appropriate that Bill Clinton should have been in Pretoria to see the United States overcome Algeria at the death. To borrow his own nickname, Bob Bradley's boys have become the Comeback Kids of this World Cup.
When Donovan went to collect his man-of-the-match award at the Loftus Versfeld, he dissolved into an emotional speech in which he mentioned two of his great hurts; his divorce from his wife, the actress Bianca Kajlich, and the United States' elimination from the 2006 World Cup. However, if his marriage did not permit Donovan a second chance, football did. This evening, Donovan will come face to face with the Ghana side that four years ago in Nuremberg dumped America out of the World Cup. In a very different stadium and in a very different town, they meet again.
For the good of the tournament, many might hope Ghana prevail. The front cover of Fifa's brochure for this World Cup features a photograph of Nelson Mandela holding the trophy next to a headline that reads "A Time for Africa". Africa, partly though its own incompetence, partly by the ill-fortune of Ivory Coast once more being thrown into a "Group of Death", has missed its time.
The argument put forward by Ghana's manager, Milovan Rajevac, that Africa from Cape Bon to the Cape of Good Hope will be rooting for his side suggests a unity to the continent that barely exists within its own football squads. The South African team was said to be split between those from Natal and players from Soweto.
And although Ghana have not been as chaotically riven as Cameroon, Sulley Muntari, whose move from Portsmouth to Internazionale must count as one of football's great escapes, admitted he had rounded on Rajevac after Ghana had failed to overcome an Australian side reduced to 10 men in the same Royal Bafokeng Stadium where they will meet the United States tonight.
"I fought with the coach because I was nervous," Muntari admitted. "We had let a winnable game slide through our hands. We have now made peace for the good of Ghana."
However, Ghana, who knocked out the United States with a Stephen Appiah penalty in Nuremberg, have yet to score a goal from open play in South Africa, while the United States have had no such difficulty. Had they not hit Robert Green's post, and seen what appeared two perfectly good goals from Clint Dempsey and Maurice Edu disallowed against Algeria and Slovenia, they would have topped Group C by an even greater margin. Emotion may be with Ghana but momentum is with the Americans.
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