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Joy in Accra as Ghana beat USA for place in quarters

By Martin Yeboah in Accra
Posted on Sunday, 27 June 2010 17:25

Ghana’s response to USA fightback leaves the Black Stars just one step from a historic place in the World Cup semi-finals.

Accra erupted in celebration on Saturday night after Ghana beat the United States 2-1 in a thrilling match in Rustenberg. The Black Stars now go on to face Uruguay in the quarter-finals after overcoming the Americans with a generally organised and compact performance, but they will have to avoid repeating a second-half lull that could prove terminal against stronger South American opposition.

Ghana were also the last remaining African team to make it through the group stages four years ago at the World Cup in Germany, where they faced holders Brazil in the last-16 for a place in the quarter-finals. They succumbed in normal time to skilled opponents, weakened by erratic defending and the sending-off of striker Asamoah Gyan.

More than a quarter-final place for Ghana was at stake in Rustenburg on Saturday night. A modicum of African success in South Africa, such as a quarter or semi-final place for an African team, is important for the tournament and could help protect Africa’s future share of World Cup places. Continued progress by the U.S. team, attracting media and celebrity support back home, would greatly assist soccer’s ascent in the crowded U.S market.

Despite some empty seats, enthusiastic supporters and a sea of vuvuzelas made for a rousing stadium atmosphere, even if the evidently cold conditions raised the question of whether the first ‘winter’ World Cup has provided sufficient home advantage to competing African nations. Dignitaries in the audience supporting the Americans included Bill Clinton and an excitable Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones, although both were unlikely to be satisfied by their chosen team’s demise.

The young Ghanaian team, close to post-Essien full strength (despite missing injured central defender Isaac Vorsah), struck first in the fifth minute with a well-placed shot from Kevin-Prince Boateng who took advantage of poor defending. The Black Stars proceeded to dominate the first half with a confident and stylish performance against the disorientated Americans. But the Ghanaians erred in not extending their lead while still dominant, especially as a one goal lead was unlikely to be enough against opponents specialising in last-gasp goals.

The second half saw a strong recovery by the U.S.A. following astute tactical substitutions by coach Bob Bradley, and an equaliser became increasingly likely. Perhaps feeling the pressure of protecting a lead in this crucial game, Ghana retreated just as they had against Australia, and manager Milovan Rajevac began to look worried.

A foul inside the area on Clint Dempsey just after the hour by the inexperienced Jonathan Mensah (not to be confused with seasoned team-mate and captain John Mensah) gave Landon Donovan the chance to score from the resulting penalty, duly converted with a ricochet off the right post of goalkeeper Richard Kingson.

When Prince Boateng later left the field through injury, the momentum truly seemed to be with the Americans. However, like South Korea earlier in the day, the US went on to squander more than one uncontested shot at goal – misses that they would rue come extra time, even if Kingson deserves credit for some well-timed saves.

Extra time saw momentum again swing Ghana’s way. Latching on to a through-ball from the defence just a few minutes into the first additional half, striker Gyan held-off a strong challenge from central defender Carlos Bocanegra and unleashed a powerful shot over the advancing keeper Tim Howard into the American goal.

A tired U.S.A., with no remaining substitutions, were unable to resume their second-half display and succumbed to defeat amidst resolute Ghana defence, possession, and opportunistic time-management. Ghana walked off the pitch as deserving 2-1 victors, and the celebrations in and outside the stadium began.

Uruguay, a tougher proposition, will be their opponents on Friday 2 July. Ghana will appreciate the six-day period to recuperate and field a fully-fit team, that will unfortunately be missing suspended midfielder André Ayew. However, they will need to improve further to become the first African team to play in a World Cup semi-final.