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U.S. MEN'S NATIONAL TEAM

June 26, 2010
PAYBACK TIME
U.S. gets a chance to right what went wrong against Ghana four years ago

By Michael Lewis
BigAppleSoccer.com Editor

Landon Donovan: “That was not a good day for me or for the team. What I remember most, personally, is my tentativeness and the immediate feeling afterwards, the finality of it and how disappointing that was."
Landon Donovan: “That was not a good day for me or for the team. What I remember most, personally, is my tentativeness and the immediate feeling afterwards, the finality of it and how disappointing that was."
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
PRETORIA -- For Landon Donovan, the past's the past.

What happened against Ghana in Nuremberg, Germany four years ago has been forgotten.

On that day -- June 22, 2006 -- the U.S. lost to Ghana, 2-1, in its final group match, denying the Americans a chance to reach the second round of the World Cup.

Saturday, Ghana stands in the Americans' way in moving on in the knockout rounds in a Round of 16 match in Rustenburg.

“That was not a good day for me or for the team," Donovan said. "What I remember most, personally, is my tentativeness and the immediate feeling afterwards, the finality of it and how disappointing that was.

“I’ve already put that behind me. This is a chance to do something very special.”

Something special is to advance to the quarterfinals, a feat the U.S. has accomplished but twice in the World Cup's 80-year history at the very first competition in 1930 and in 2002.

Donovan was a 20-year-old international novice eight years ago when the Americans reached the final eight in Japan.

These days, he is a "grizzled" veteran of three World Cups. Donovan compared this year's team, which finished Group C play undefeated at 1-0-2, to the 2002 team.

“The difference being that we’ve had greater experiences as a team than any other team in our history," he said. "Last year was incredibly valuable for our team, to experience that and the way we experienced it. I think we have a really good group of guys that believe that they can pull off anything and these three games have boosted that even more.”

Forward Jozy Altidore felt the real World Cup starts now.

He said that getting out of the group was "the hardest part, definitely. But now the tournament really starts for us. We wanted to get out of the group and then make statement. We have the opportunity to do that Saturday but at the same time we have to respect and understand that it’s going to take a lot – and that has to come from us. The form has to continue.”

Despite playing without its best player and captain, holding midfielder Michael Essien (knee injury), the Africans (1-1-1, four points) managed to get past Australia by goal differential (even to minus three) and Serbia in Group D and finish second to Germany.

Ghana has struggled offensively, as both its goals have come via penalty kicks.

“I’ve been impressed with them," Donovan said. "I thought they would struggle a little bit without Essien but I think they’ve looked very good. They’re going to be a very difficult team to play with. Clearly their athleticism will be difficult to deal with. My guess is that they’re have quite a bit of support. Like a lot of African teams, they can be unpredictable sometimes, which can be a plus or a minus."

Goalkeeper Tim Howard, whose penalty-kick stopping skills could come in handy in a possible shootout, agreed.

"They’re physical, they’re strong, they’re fast," he said. "They can create special moments one-on-one. As individuals, I think that plays to us a little bit because I think we’re strong and we’re fast and we like to go head-to-head. I think, collectively, if we do the same things we’ve been talking about, defending well as a unit, staying compact, I think the game will open up for us.”
   
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