Four years ago, Ghana and the USA met in the last match in group E. It was a tight encounter with Ghana winning 2-1. I remember that game mainly because it got us through to the next round. At the time, it was a big achievement as it was our maiden world cup. That game sticks with me also because of a questionable yellow card that ruled Michael Essien out of the second round match against Brazil where his absence was too big to overcome. Essien is not a member of the team and he won’t be able to influence proceedings. Thus far, his shoes have been ably filled.
Re-reading the match reports on that match in 2006, it was a closer game than I remember. At the time I did not think there was any way the US would win so I remember it as a mere formality. Things have changed. Both sides are more evenly matched. The key to a Ghana victory is the action in the middle of the park. I don’t see how the US should be able to match our midfield. The US will likely try to take advantage of the size of Jozy Altidore but a fit John Mensah should be able to keep him quiet. Landon Donovan is one of the keys to a US victory and I believe we have the personnel to limit him. If he starts out on the right, Dede Ayew and Hans Sarpei together should be able to keep him in check and prevent him from getting the clearcut chances he got against Algeria and Slovenia. If he operates down the middle, our main defensive stopper Anthony Annan has the ability to make Donovan ineffective. Another player to watch is the US coach’s son, Michael Bradley. Like Anthony Annan he just gets it done without fuss. He scored the all-important second goal for the US against Slovenia. Clint Dempsey has become an important player for the US. But he has often been criticized for not showing up in important games for the US. He is an enigmatic player and on his day can be a handful.
The game will hinge on which group of midfielders take their chances. If the Ghana midfield in Kwadwo Asamoah, Dede Ayew and Kevin Prince Boateng find their scoring boots, we could be in for a special night. If the US midfielders continue their scoring form, they will go on to the next round.
But sometimes tactics and personnel have nothing on desire and willpower. The one quality the US team has shown is they just don’t know when to quit. They keep fighting until the very end and they make you earn everything you get. In short, sometimes, their heart takes over. If the Black Stars take the last African standing storyline to heart there should be no deficiency in the heart quotient. And if they approach the US team with the focus they did Germany, I predict we win 2-0 or 2-1. If we treat the US as though they are Australia or some minnows, we will be punished.
We have a unique opportunity to equal and possibly even surpass what other African teams have done and it would be a shame to squander that opportunity.