Saturday, 26 June 2010

Ghana 2 USA 1: Africa have their heroes, but the American dream is shattered

While 23 million Ghanaians go off into the night to celebrate, 305 million Americans are left with their heads in their hands. About 20,000 of them were among the 33,000 at the Bafokeng Sports Palace last night, stunned. The World Cup tends to do that to even the most powerful of nations.

A night of high drama ended Phokeng's involvement in this fascinating World Cup - and the USA's. Though it will be absolutely no consolation to the brave US and their huge army of travelling fans, it produced a result South Africa 2010 desperately needs.

With five African nations crashing out with two wins between them, Ghana carry the hopes of a continent as Africa's first World Cup hits the squeaky bottom phase.

The Americans came back from beyond once more, but they couldn't do it twice. A rousing crusade is over. The American dream of global dominance with the round ball remains incomplete. But they'll be back.

And they'll be ready to go that extra step. Legend has it that Landon Donovan, the son of a semi-professional ice-hockey player, demanded to play soccer when he was seven.

His mother Donna took him along and he scored six goals. So far, after 21 years and two World Cup finals, he has scored five including his penalty in Phokeng. And that's the most any CONCACAF player has ever managed. Quick, dogged and determined, Donovan epitomises the grit that drives this vastly-improved US side.

But he's not alone. Michael Bradley, son of coach Bob who got it so wrong with his starting line-up against Ghana last night, never stops running. Fulham's Clint Dempsey was hacked down countless times, but never lost his rag, never lost his hunger.

But even that wasn't enough. So what do we make of Ghana, the Black Stars who carry the last African flag into the quarter-finals? The name itself means "Warrior King", this was the home of the much-feared Ashanti tribe and the first African nation to declare itself free of British imperialism in 1960.

They've always been a bit special... and they proved it again without Michael Essien, their Chelsea talisman, who pulled out injured before the tournament.

Richie Kingson, regarded as the third best goalkeeper at Wigan last season, showed just why he's looking for a new club. He was immense when the Americans, having reshuffled their side, began putting the pressure on.

Early on, it was all Ghana. Bradley started with Ricardo Clark rather than Maurice Edu but it was Clark who was dispossessed after just five minutes. Portsmouth's Kevin-Prince Boateng, the man who famously crocked Germany captain Michael Ballack at the FA Cup final, did the robbing.

And blow me, he took the ball, whisked past Watford's Jay DeMerit and struck it low with his left foot past Everton'sTim Howard. Great goal and the start of serious Ghanaian dominance. After half-an-hour the Africans had 64 percent of the possession. And we were starting to understand why captain DeMerit has told Watford he's looking for a new challenge.

But while Sulley Muntari, Ghana's best player after Essien, languished on the Ghana bench, Bradley made his changes. Outnumbered in midfield, he pulled Clark off after just half-an-hour and put Edu on up front.

It worked a charm. The US came right back into it, chance after chance falling to Jozi Altidor, the one-goal Hull striker last season, and Edu.

They had to wait too long for the equaliser though. Just over an hour was gone when Dempsey scurried into the area and Jonathan Mensah pulled him down. I thought he may have got a touch on the ball, but in the book he went and Donovan stepped up to take the penalty.

The US pushed and pushed for the winner but with Kingson dominant, we were into extra-time. It looked for all the world as if the Americans would go on to win it... but somebody forgot to tell Asamoah Gyan.

Scorer of two goals out of three for Ghana so far, the 24-year-old from French club Rennes bundled past Carlos Bocanegra and smashed a glorious left foot shot past Howard from just inside the box.

The final minute saw the two goalkeepers go head to head, literally, as Howard went up for a corner only to be denied by the courageous Kingson. Does Arsene Wenger have his number?

Donovan lamented afterwards: "Soccer is such a cruel game. One minute you're on top of the world, the next you're at the bottom of the mountain. We were a little bit naive at times and you can't do that at this level."

With Argetina or Mexico next up in the quarter-finals, Gyan said simply: "I am the happiest man in the world."

To see the Gyan goal and hear US coach Bob Bradley's summing up, see:

Soweto, the ultimate World Cup destination: Includes fantastic dancing lady and the ultimate World Cup companion!

Neal Collins is in South Africa to marvel at the South Americans, pray for England... and promote his first novel A GAME APART, the real story behind this World Cup. For more information see

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