June 16, 2014
By Michael Lewis
US tops Ghana, 2-1
NATAL, Brazil -- The United States exorcised ghosts of World Cups past and put itself into a solid position to reach the second round of the World Cup in dramatic fashion on Monday night.
|John Brooks came off the bench to score the 86th-minute game-winner against Ghana.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
Second-half substitute John Brooks headed home a Graham Zusi corner kick in the 86th minute to snap a 1-1 deadlock and boost the Americans to a 2-1 triumph over their World Cup nemesis Ghana at Arena das Dunas.
They desperately needed a victory in their first game to have any chance of getting into the Round of 16 with the likes of Portugal (June 22) and Germany (June 26) looming.
Germany rolled over Portugal 4-0 in the other group match Monday, putting the Portuguese on the hot seat against the USA.
The USA also avenged their last two World Cup exits by Ghana, which eliminated the Americans in 2006 and 2010 by, as it turned out, 2-1 results.
Clint Dempsey tilted the scales the USA’s way early scoring 29 seconds into the match. Andre Ayew equalized for Ghana in the 82nd minute, firing a shot past goalkeeper Tim Howard at the near left post as it appeared the U.S. had failed in its attempt to snap the Ghana jinx.
But four minutes later, a pair of second-half subs teamed to boost the Americans into the lead as Zusi sent a corner into the middle of the box and Brooks headed it home in front of 39,760, reportedly including as many 20,000 USA fans, as well as Vice President Biden.
Left back DaMarcus Beasley started the USA’s initial scoring sequence with a throw-in to Dempsey, who returned the ball to Beasley. Beasley then passed to Jermaine Jones, who sent the ball to Dempsey, who faked out defender John Boye, found some room in the penalty area and launched a left-footed shot from seven yards that bounded off the far right post past goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey.
Dempsey celebrated one with of his patented ugly-face screams as his teammates celebrated with him.
It was the earliest USA World Cup goal in history and the fifth earliest goal in Cup history.
It also was the first goal by a USA forward since the 2-0 win over Mexico in the Round of 16 at the 2002 World Cup in Korea/Japan, breaking a streak of eight games.
The goal certainly woke up Ghana, which forced the issue and began to dictate, but the Americans were able to repel just about everything Ghana sent their way.
In the 18th minute, a right-wing pass found Jozy Altidore on the left side of the penalty area, but he had to reach for the ball, which slowed him down just a bit. He got off a shot that richocheted off Boye before rolling safely to Kwarasey.
Disaster struck for the USA in the 20th minute. While running down a long ball on the left side, Altidore clutched his hamstring and fell to the grass in agony. He was replaced by Aron Johannsson three minutes later.
Slowly, but surely, the game became a physical battle. Ghana midfielder Mohammed Rabiu was issued a yellow card on the half hour after elbowing Kyle Beckerman in the neck.
The Africans had their first legitimate scoring opportunity in the 32nd minute, when captain and forward Asamoah Gyan unleashed a shot that goalkeeper Tim Howard punched away.
A minute later, the USA and Klinsmann got another scare as Boye, on what appeared to be an illegal high kick, whacked Dempsey in the face. No card was given as Dempsey, whose nose was bleeding, was worked on on the sideline. The Seattle Sounders forward returned to action in the 35th minute.
Shortly into first-half stoppage time, midfielders Muntari Sulley and Jermaine Jones had a tussle when the Ghana midfielder tackled the ball away from the U.S. middie. As he fell to the ground, Jones’ leg caught Sulley in the face and a pushing match ensued. Referee Jonas Eriksson did not give out any cards. Instead, he had both players shake hands. Whether that was going to stop the physical play remained to be seen.
At halftime, USA coach Jurgen Klinsmann brought on defender John Brooks for center back Matt Besler, who felt tightness in his right hamstring and was taken out as a precautionary measure.
A relentless Ghana continued to attack in the second half, shooting wide on two occasions within a minute. First, Muntari sent a long-range blast wide left in the 55th minute before Gyan got free for a six-yard header that sailed over the crossbar in the 56th.
Only two minutes later, Gyan headed the ball wide left.
Gyan continued his wayward shooting as his 64th was blocked by central defender Geoff Cameron in the 64th minute.
Needing fresh legs, Klinsmann brought on Zusi for midfielder Alejandro Bedoya in the 77th minute.
The Americans were able to slow down the Africans a bit, giving their much-tested defense short breathers between attacks.