World Cup 2014: John Brooks' American dream comes true as wasteful Ghana lose their way

USA recovered after being pegged back by Ghana

Theirs was a night that would have played well back in the United States. There was an early goal, a dramatic finish and plenty of wounded heroes. It was almost cinematic.

They last time the US came to Brazil for a World Cup, they pulled off one of the sporting shocks of the century against an England team who wondered what they were doing on a football pitch.

Now, despite the fact they reached a World Cup quarter-final a dozen years ago, there is still some of that condescension towards “soccer”. As he prepared to face the US, the Ghana midfielder André Ayew remarked: “If we are fit and 100 per cent, there is no way we are not going to win this game.”

However, Ghana were not fully fit – neither Kevin-Prince Boateng nor Michael Essien started in Natal. They were also a long way from 100 per cent when it came to taking the many chances they created in a vibrant if intensely physical game that saw Jozy Altidore pull a hamstring, Clint Dempsey play out the match with a broken nose and centre-half Matt Besler (hamstring) failing to finish.

 

Even after Ayew scored a beautifully worked equaliser with eight minutes to go and, with the momentum flowing their way, Ghana looking good for at least a draw in the Arena das Dunas, the Americans struck back.

“I thought our maturity and resilience were awesome,” remarked Tim Howard. The Everton keeper is 35, Dempsey is 33 but the rest are very much younger and though they qualified more impressively than the other World Cup entrants from North and Central America, Mexico and Costa Rica, they were expected to be the first to perish in a group of death.

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Clint Dempsey scored the opener

 

John Brooks is 21 and, with charming naivety, he had announced to the squad that he dreamt he had scored in the 80th minute against Ghana and the United States had won the game. His dream was six minutes out, but he was correct when he forecast in his sleep that the goal would come from a header executed at a corner.

Premier League football may fill his dreams, with Everton, Aston Villa and Newcastle monitoring his admittedly erratic progress with Hertha Berlin. Brooks has never actually lived in the country he plays for, having been born in Berlin to an American serviceman father – one of five members of Jürgen Klinsmann’s squad that have German roots.

Nevertheless, amid all the euphoria generated by a visit to the US dressing room from Vice-President Joe Biden, there was also some anxiety. Klinsmann  joked that he wondered what a fired-up Cristiano Ronaldo might do when they face Portugal in Manaus on Sunday.

“We have got to keep possession better,” said man-of-the-match Dempsey, who led by example. “There were times when we allowed Ghana far too much of the ball.” His manager admitted on occasion he was screaming at his players from the touchline not to squander possession. Ghana aimed 21 shots at Howard’s goal, the third-highest total of this World Cup so far and with more composure they might have broken through decisively.

With the Germans facing them in Fortaleza on Saturday, there appears no credible way back for Africa’s best organised and most obviously talented team. “We lost focus and lost concentration. We have only ourselves to blame,” said Asamoah Gyan, who missed with two athletic headers in front of the noisiest and most colourful supporters of this tournament.

Essien attempted to console them by announcing that at 31 he would attempt to play on to take Ghana to the 2018 World Cup in Russia. This one, however, may be over for Ghana before it has properly begun.

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