Ghana, playing at the World Cup finals for the first time, have qualified for the knocout stages after overcoming the United States 2-1 in Nuremberg.
For the United States, the tournament ends in disappointment. They arrived with high hopes following their quarter-final spot four years ago, but they depart Germany with a lingering sense of injustice following this defeat. With the scores level at 1-1, Ghana were awarded a controversial penalty that ultimately proved the difference between the two teams.
Ghana were without striker Asamoah Gyan and midfielder Sulley Muntari who were both suspended for the most important game in the country’s history. Ghana forward Razak Pimpong replaced Gyan while Derek Boateng took the place of Sulley Muntari in midfield.
For the USA Bruce Arena recalled Eddie Lewis and DeMarcus Beasley, for the suspended duo Pablo Mastroeni and Eddie Pope.
Ghana recovered from defeat in their opening group game by Italy to clinch a place in the last 16 with victory over the USA in Nuremberg.
With so much at stake both sides were committed to a physical battle, and Lewis required treatment for a cut caused by John Mensah’s stray elbow.
The first genuine blow though came from Ghana when Dramani dispossessed Reyna and he advanced into the penalty area before curling his shot around Kasey Keller.
The contribution of Essien, who was the dominant figure in the middle of the pitch, was all the more admirable considering the booking he received after five minutes, ruled him out of the second round.
USA took their time to get going, but they came close to an equaliser when McBride rose to flick the ball on for Landon Donovan who sliced his shot wide.
The Americans suffered a significant blow when captain Reyna limped off, having never really recovered from the challenge from Dramani that led to the opening goal.
However, shortly after his departure, they were back on level terms. DaMarcus Beasley regained possession after initially running into several Ghana defenders and his momentum carried him clear of the backline, from where he produced a wonderful curling cross that was hammered home by Dempsey.
Parity between the two sides lasted only a couple of minutes when referee made the decision that changed the game.
The experienced Merk penalised Onyewu who appeared to win a clean header as Pimpong collapsed dramatically. From the resulting spot-kick, Appiah sent Keller the wrong way.
At the start of the second half the US were dominant but Ghana held firm and always looked dangerous on the counter-attack.
McBride did hit the bar with a flying header, but for all their possession, the Americans struggled to create many clear cut chances. Although Ghana had to endure a few nervy closing minutes, they ultimately prevailed relatively comfortably to take their place in the last 16.
The US will return somewhat disgruntled by the performance of Merk. His decision to award Ghana a penalty was the key moment in the game, and one that Arena’s team were unable to recover from.
Ghana: Kingston, Mensah, Pantsil, Shilla, Mohamed, Appiah, Essien, Dramani, Boateng, Amoah, Pimpong.
Subs: Eric Addo, Otto Addo, Adjei, Ahmed, Kuffour, Owu, Pappoe, Quaye, Sarpei, Tachie-Mensah.
Subs used: O Addo 46 (for Boateng), E Addo 59 (for Amoah), Tachie-Mensah 80 (for Dramani)
Bookings: Essien 5, Shilla 32, Mensah 81
USA: Keller, Onyewu, Conrad, Cherundolo, Bocanegra, Dempsey, Reyna, Lewis, Beasley, Donovan, McBride.
Subs used: Olsen 40 (for Reyna), Johnson 60 (for Cherundolo), Convey 74 (for Lewis).
Bookings: Lewis 7
Referee: Shamsul Maidin (Singapore)
Ghana: Dramani 22, Appiah (pen) 45
USA: Dempsey 43