Two goals, one early, one late, gave the United States a victory against the odds and the run of play.
Clint Dempsey, the MLS’s highest-paid and most experienced player, scored in less than half a minute. John Brooks, a rather lesser known member of Jurgen Klinsmann’s squad, who plays for Hertha Berlin, headed home the second four minutes from the finish. Unless The Black Stars get something from a rampant Germany in Fortaleza on Saturday, they will be going home rather earlier than they did from South Africa.
The statistics for possession and shots were all in their favour. Ghana had recovered well to equalise through Andre Ayew and had dominated the second half of a physical and often bruising encounter. On ability and chances created, they should have won but they possess two of the cliches of African football - a weak defence and an utterly untrustworthy goalkeeper.
You could measure the passage of the first half by the expressions on Clint Dempsey’s face. As the teams warmed up, the Texan appeared locked in intense concentration. Later it was a mass of blood as John Boye’s raised boot accidentally struck his nose.
In between, he was running open-mouthed, pumping the air with his fists, as he scored the fifth-quickest goal in the history of the World Cup and became the first American to score in three separate tournaments.
Timed at 31 seconds, it was almost three times as slow as Hakan Suker’s for Turkey against South Korea in the third-placed play-off in 2002 but it was wonderfully constructed. This time, Boye was the victim as Dempsey cut inside leaving the Rennes defender floundering before he shot past Adam Kwarasey.
However, there was a price to be paid - and it was not just the damage inflicted on Dempsey’s nose. His strike partner, Jozy Altidore, who suffered an unforgiving season at Sunderland, was carried off after suffering what looked like a tournament-ending hamstring injury. At half-time, Klinsmann brought off Matt Besler, who also looked to be hampered by injury, replacing the centre-half with the 21-year-old Brooks.
Just before the interval, Sulley Muntari looked as if he was going to strangle Jermaine Jones when the two clattered into each other by the touchline and the American’s boots accidentally struck him on the back of the head.
Ghana went into the dressing-rooms angry. After the restart, they set about getting even. First a shot from Muntari screeched wide, then two athletic headers from Asamoah Gyan came close to achieving a breakthrough and Ghana’s manager, Akwasi Appiah, who rather outshone Klinsmann in the fashion stakes, brought on Kevin Prince Boateng. Then came Michael Essien, another who had not been considered quite fit enough to start.
Dressed in slacks, canvas shoes and what looked like and a loose polo shirt, Klinsmann saw his young team pressed further and further back, until a back--heel from Gyan, was finished off wonderfully by Ayew. Ghana surely had their point but more poor defending and a powerful header left them distraught on the final whistle.
This was one of the noisiest and most colourful games of the tournament with the chants of “USA, USA”, met with base drums carried into the arena by the Ghanaians. Fans from both sides had dressed up spectacularly - an African bishop face to face with Elvis and General Patton.
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