Ghana 2 USA 1: Ban for Essien takes gloss off dazzling Ghana show

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The Independent Football

The Group of Lingering Death, and while the United States' ventilator was turned off without too much protest from anyone who does not have a personal affection for Uncle Sam, Ghana move on.

At the end, there were frantic scenes in Nuremberg as the Black Stars confirmed their presence in the round of 16 on this, their inaugural appearance in the finals. It will have confounded the sceptics, whom you imagine privately included their Serbian coach Ratomir Dujkovic.

Yet, while Ghana salivate at the prospect of Brazil to come, Michael Essien can only contemplate about what could have been. Chelsea's £24.4m midfielder was once again the victim of his own impetuosity - how many times have we read that before? - and, as the recipient of a second yellow in the tournament, must sit and wonder as Ghana's lavish entertainers enjoy the prize for their progress on Tuesday.

A rash fourth-minute challenge on the US captain Claudio Reyna determined that Essien would miss the next game, assuming Ghana won through. There was never any real doubt of that, although they were the benefactors of a remarkably "soft" penalty award from the German referee Markus Merk, which ultimately decided the contest.

This was a fascinating clash of styles, with Ghana extravagant, if at times error-prone; the US industrious and strong but reminiscent of a poor man's Premiership. The West Africans had been an exhilarating force when defeating the Czech Republic 2-0, but their two scorers, Asamoah Gyan and Sulley Muntari, were absent here through suspension. However, victory would guarantee a second-round place.

After an edgy start by both teams, Reyna was robbed midway in his own half, in the 22nd minute, by Hamini Dramani, the Red Star Belgrade player, who dashed towards goal unopposed.

He opened his body in the style of Thierry Henry before turning the ball exquisitely past the goalkeeper Kasey Keller. Meanwhile, Reyna lay still, surrounded by seemingly as many medical staff as the whole of General Hospitalbefore having his legs strapped and borne to the touchline. He returned, but lasted only 17 minutes before being substituted.

By then, his team had exhibited clear signs of a revival. Fulham's Brian McBride, as dominating a presence as ever in front of goal, supplied one headed knock-down for Landon Donovan, but he skied the ball. Even the American supporters, who are over here in remarkable numbers,recognised that their team were over-rated at fifth in the world rankings.

The PSV Eindhoven midfielder DaMarcus Beasley had been omitted from the opening line-up against Italy, but he was recalled here by the US, who were without Eddie Pope and Pablo Mastroeni; both were dismissed in that 1-1 draw. Beasley's presence was felt by Ghana two minutes from the interval, when his sweeping cross was smashed home by Clint Dempsey.

Yet, even as the US bench were still celebrating the moment, Ghana established a decidedly fortuitous lead. The striker Razak Pimpong was challenged for an aerial ball by the US's £2m-rated defender Oguchi Onyewu, a player reportedly coveted by Middlesbrough and Reading, and though there appeared a minimum of contact, referee Merk awarded the spot-kick. Even Pimpong looked faintly embarrassed. However, unabashed, his captain Stephen Appiah drove the penalty past Keller.

In Japan-South Korea, they had their moment as surprise package; there will be few regrets world-wide that this time that baton has been passed to Ghana.

Ghana: Kingston, Mensah, Pantsil, Shilla, Mohamed, Appiah, Essien, Dramani (Tachie-Mensah, 80), Boateng (Otto Addo, 45), Amoah (Eric Addo, 59), Pimpong.

USA: Keller, Onyewu, Conrad, Cherundolo (Johnson, 60), Bocanegra, Dempsey, Reyna (Olsen, 40), Lewis (Convey, 74), Beasley, Donovan, McBride.

Referee: Markus Merk (Germany).

Booked: Ghana Essien, Shilla, Mensah, Appiah; USA Lewis.

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