USA 1 Ghana 2
USA: Howard; Cherundolo, DeMerit, Bocanegra, Bornstein; Donovan, Bradley, Clark (Edu 30), Dempsey; Findley (Feilhaber 46), Altidore (Gomez 91)
Ghana: Kingson; Pantsil, Jonathan Mensah, John Mensah, Sarpei (Addy 72); Annan, KP Boateng (Appiah 78); Inkoom (Muntari 113), Asamoah, Ayew; Gyan
Ghana exceeded expectations tonight in a closely-fought game which saw the Black Stars run-out 2-1 winners over Bob Bradley’s United States team in Rustenburg and progress to the quarter-finals.
4-2-3-1 vs 4-4-2
Set out in a 4-2-3-1, Milovan Rajevac made just one change to his starting line-up, Samuel Inkoom (nominally a right-back) replacing Prince Tagoe on the wing in order to give the Ghanaians a greater defensive presence when dealing with the creativity of Clint Dempsey on the American left.
Bob Bradley made a brace of changes to his eleven, Robbie Findley being drafted in for Herculez Gomez up front having returned from suspension and Ricardo Clark replacing Maurice Edu in the centre of midfield in the United States’ 4-4-2.
Patience and pressing
The first half was characterised by Ghana’s comfort and patience in possession as well as the incredibly high energy levels they maintained to press the USA high up the field and limit their opponents to very few sights of goal.
The pressure the Black Stars put the American players under paid off early on when the hapless Clark, a player who, unfortunately, looked out of his depth, was robbed of possession by Kwadwo Asamoah who set Kevin-Prince Boateng free to run at a backtracking defence before firing beyond Tim Howard.
On the half-hour Bob Bradley attempted to change the pattern of the game, bringing on Maurice Edu at the expense of Clark in order to provide better distribution of the ball and a greater attacking threat in the midfield. Although you felt sorry for Clark who suffered the humiliation of an early substitution, it was the right move from Bradley who had recognised the need to have more running from deep in order to push the Ghanaian midfield deeper, not allowing them to press so high up the pitch and disrupt the USA in possession to such an extent.
New shape for the US
As impressive as Ghana were in the first half, there were doubts as to their ability to maintain the intensity their game plan necessitated, doubts that materialised during the second period as the United States came back into the game strongly.
During the break Bradley brought Benny Feilhaber on for the largely ineffective Findley, the AGF Aarhus player taking up a role on the left side of midfield with Dempsey becoming the central striker in what effectively became a lopsided 4-3-3 such was the advanced position of Landon Donovan and the relative depth of Feilhaber.
The re-imagined shape prevented John Pantsil and Inkoom linking up as they had done so efficiently during the first half and forced the Black Stars to narrow drastically, the wide midfielders tucking in to leave the full-backs as the only players providing width.
Ghana also started to play from a deeper starting point, understandably making every effort to protect their lead.
As Rajevac’s side did so well before half-time, it was Bradley’s players that looked the more comfortable in possession and willing to run directly at the opposition during the second 45, their positivity leading to the Ghanaian defence becoming overrun and, ultimately, the penalty which Donovan converted to equalise.
The pattern shifts again
The remainder of the second half saw the game stretch somewhat as both teams tired and started to play on the counter-attack. However, as the match entered extra time it was Ghana that seized the initiative, counter-attacking excellently to take the lead through a tremendous Asamoah Gyan finish under pressure from both American centre-halves.
Rajevac’s team then gave a masterclass in keeping possession for the rest of the additional 30 minutes, preventing the United States from creating much in the way of coherent attacks and containing their creative players as they had done so well during the opening stages of the game.
The Black Stars become only the third African team to reach the quarter-finals of a World Cup and have done so with a display of great organisation and, when necessary, attacking vigour. As for the USA, they head home with much credit after topping Group C and having built upon the promise this group of players showed in last year’s Confederations Cup. Both of these teams have reason to be very proud of their performances in South Africa.