The USA and Ghana meet in the final Group E match at the 2006 World Cup Finals in Nuremberg this afternoon.
Both teams still have hopes of qualification for the second round and it will be difficult for fans and staff to restrain themselves from listening out for news of the group’s other game in Hamburg where Italy take on Czech Republic.
The USA will be hoping for an Italian victory in that clash this afternoon. Such an eventuality would mean that they would qualify for round two if they can beat the African qualifiers. This outcome looked almost impossible after the USA’s 3-0 opening defeat at the hands of the Czechs, but the Americans responded well in drawing 1-1 with Italy last weekend, despite being a man down following the controversial game’s three red cards.
For Ghana it is simpler. If they win they are definitely through, meaning that their destiny is in their own hands this afternoon. If they fail to win then they will be reliant on the result from the other game, something that their Serbian coach Ratomir Dujkovic will be hoping to avoid.
It is the first-ever meeting between the two sides this afternoon, and their respective World Cup histories could not be much different. Ghana are one of six finals debutants at this year’s tournament, while the USA are competing for the fifth straight time. Their appearance in Germany is their eighth overall, and last time round in Korea and Japan they enjoyed an unexpected run to the semi-finals.
Ghana will probably enter today’s game as favourites, however, despite their inferior record at the finals. Their superb victory last weekend over the admittedly lacklustre and injury plagued Czechs has won them lots of fans and they will be hopeful of becoming the first African team so far to make it through to this year’s knockout phase.
They will have to do it without two of their key players though. Striker Asamoah Gyan, who has been a revelation so far with his two goals, and midfielder Sulley Muntari are both suspended. Muntari scored the clinching second goal in the 2-0 win over the Czechs but the Udinese man’s needless booking shortly afterwards will have infuriated his coach. The result is the break-up of Ghana’s hitherto impressive midfield trio of Muntari, Michael Essien and Stephan Appiah. The latter pair will have to work even harder in the absence of their colleague this afternoon. Replacing Gyan will be equally difficult for Dujkovic, despite him being relatively unknown before the beginning of the tournament. The wonderfully named Razak Pimpong, who has featured in both group games as a substitute, is likely to be given the nod to partner Matthew Amoah in Gyan’s absence.
“It is very difficult to find another Sulley Muntari in particular,” a rueful Dujkovic told the press on Wednesday.
“He is exceptional. He tackles, defends, attacks and creates chances. I don’t have a message for the US team. They will have to worry and suffer. We are strong and capable of matching anyone,” he continued.
“The players are aware that if they finish second in the group then they will face Brazil. they would give their lives for a win over Brazil and it has been difficult for me to control their enthusiasm even though we are not there yet. Ghana is young and tough. We won’t play for a draw and will be going out to win.”
USA coach Bruce Arena will have been pleased by his team’s 1-1 draw with Italy. The Americans showed plenty of character to respond positively following their opening defeat by the Czechs. The American media were relentless and remorseless in their criticism of the national team after that match, but many of them have been made to eat their words after the vast improvement shown against the fancied Italians.
Arena’s preparations have been hindered by suspensions to defender Eddie Pope and holding midfielder Pablo Mastroeni, following their red cards last weekend. Fulham defender Carlos Bocanegra will probably move to left-back, meaning that Jimmy Conrad will probably be drafted in to partner Oguchi Onyewu in the heart of the USA’s back four.
Elsewhere, Onyewu and midfielder Claudio Reyna, who will be winning his 11th cap, are one yellow card away from suspension for the second phase but both will be given starts by Arena in this afternoon’s crucial match. Brian McBride, who needed stitches in his face following a vicious elbow by Italy midfielder Daniele de Rossi in last weekend’s match, is fit to start and will be looking to become the first American to score at three World Cups following his goals in 1998 and 2002.
Arena is confident of getting a positive result this afternoon and is proud of the achievements of his players against the Italians, but has warned his players of the threat posed by Ghana today. He identified their pace and athleticism as their most impressive attributes as he spoke to the media on Tuesday.
“One thing we don’t want to do is get involved in a 90 minute foot race against them,” he said.
“If we do we will lose as they are incredible athletes. They have momentum and confidence but hopefully we can deal with their speed, which is my biggest concern.”
“Ghana were miraculous in the way they turned their game around against the Czechs,” he continued.
“That in itself is frightening. They have some excellent players but Michael Essien is their best. He is one of the best players in the entire tournament. He works offensively and defensively, passes a lot and sets-up goals. He makes the difference between a good team and a very good team. If we can nullify his threat then we can win.”
By Mark Robinson
Ghana: Kingston; Paintsil, Habib Mohammed, Mensah, Illiasu; Boateng, Essien, Appiah, O Addo; Amoah, Pimpong
USA: Keller; Cherundolo, Onyewu, Conrad, Bocanegra; Convey, Reyna, Dempsey, Donovan; McBride, Johnson
Referee:: Graham Poll (England)