The knockout stages of the World Cup start today. No team can afford to mess up now, unless they want to be back home in front of a telly to watch the single biggest match in football, the World Cup Final. USA finished top of Group C, ahead of England by beating Algeria 1-0 with a dramatic last minute goal from Landon Donovan. As a prize, the Stars and Stripes get to avoid playing Germany in this round and instead play the only African team left standing in the 2010 World Cup, Ghana.
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Many like CNN’s Roland Martins believe that the USA’s interest in the World Cup and in soccer is similar to their interest in the Olympics, in that it comes around once every four years. However, all that could change, if USA continue their successful run at the World Cup. With each successive game that the United States Men’s National Soccer Team wins, they win over more support for soccer in their country. It may be a cliche to say that the US loves winners, but that doesn’t make it untrue. So, quite literally, the future of soccer will get a major boast were USA to beat Ghana today and get to the quarter-finals. Another little incentive for topping Group C, which I am sure the USA will be thrilled about it that they get the opportunity to exact revenge on Ghana who had eliminated USA from the 2006 World Cup.
USA manager Bob Bradley will most likely go with a 4-4-2 formation with the giant defender Oguchi Onyewut, Steven Cherundolo, Jay DeMerit, Carlos Bocanegra at the back. USA’s midfield has is made up of incredible players like Landon Donovan who scored the goal that got the USA to this round, Clint Dempsey who always gives a 110% and is probably the most fouled against player in the World Cup, Maurice Edu who came in for Jose Francisco Torres but is sure to retain his spot in the starting line-up and the coach’s son Michael Bradley, who has silenced critics first by scoring a crucial goal against Slovenia and then by putting in an extraordinary performance against Algeria which one him the man of the match. The US attack will be lead by Jozy Altidore and Robbie Findley.
USA have strength going forward and whatever they lack in defense, they make up with their grit and hard-work.
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Ghana are the only African team left in the World Cup. Not only do they have the hopes of a country riding on them, they have the hopes of an entire continent to worry about. This could be a major advantage, since they are now practically the home team and will have the support of th crowd. However, hopes of an entire continent can be a burden, and if they go a goal or two down early in the game and the pressure could become too much for them to handle. Ghana, however made USA miserable in the past and will feel sure that they can do it again.
In the last World Cup, USA would have qualified for the knockout stages if they had won against Ghana in their final group game but Ghana’s Haminu Draman and Stephen Appiah scored, leading Ghana to a 2-1 victory and condemning the USA to an early exit. Of the players that played in that match in Nuremberg in 2006, 9 players remain in the Ghana squad.
Ghana have a strong defensive set-up and have made it to the round of 16, they are without their key player Michael Essien and have been finding it very hard to score goals . So far, Ghana have only scored 3 goals in the competition and two of those have come as a result of penalties converted by Asamoah Gyan.
Milovan Rajevac will most likely go with a 4-3-3 formation with Kingson in goal and John Pantsil, John Mensah, Lee Addy and Hans Sarpei at the back. Kevin-Prince Boateng, Anthony Annan, Kwadwo Asamoah will make up the midfield with Prince Tagoe, Asamoah Gyan, Andre Ayew up front. However, Milovan Rajevac’s might hand a first start of the tournament to promising striker Dominic Adiyiah who was named Africa’s young player of the year in 2009 to combat Ghana’s goal drought. Mensah who wasn’t successful in keeping Landon Donovan from scoring against his club Sunderland last season will be hoping he can keep the USA player at bay for his country today. Another interesting battle will be the one between Fulham teammates John Pantsil who will play at right-back for Ghana and Clint Dempsey who is most likely to play wide on the left for USA.
“I think there are six (players) on both sides from the match in 2006 so there is some element of that, but now, four years later, things have changed. And, speaking for ourselves, we are looking ahead to 90 minutes or more, and to doing it — and moving along. We want to go far in this tournament and that is what our focus is on.” – Bob Bradley, USA manager
“We have created wonderful opportunities to score but we have had a bit of bad luck. Perhaps we were missing a bit of concentration. We can’t finish it off so hopefully going forward we will score proper, real goals and I’d be very happy to see this in the last 16.” -Milovan Rajevac, Ghana manager
If you had any doubts about the importance of this game to the respective countries, the fact that the President Barack Obama called the US team to congratulate them on winning Group C and former President Bill Clinton attended their game against Algeria shows just how much a place in the quarter-finals means to USA.
Stars to Watch Out For
USA: Bob Bradley, Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey
Ghana: Andre Ayew, Prince Tagoe, Kevin-Prince Boateng
If USA beat Ghana it would be the first time since 1930 that the American team have won two consecutive World Cup matches
Ghana are only the second African team to reach the knockout stages in two consecutive World Cups – Nigeria were the first team to achieve that feat in 1998
If he plays, Landon Donovan will beat the USA’s all-time record of 11 finals appearances, currently held by Cobi Jones and Earnest Stewart
The Black Stars’ last three World Cup goals all came from the penalty spot