To say that the USA and Ghana are unlikely rivals would be an understatement. One nation is a global superpower at the center of almost every international engagement, and the other is a sovereign West African nation that has made great strides in their region over the years – not that many outside of that region take notice.
Writing the story of the rivalry between these two teams is not hard. Until 2006, these two nations had never played at the senior international level, and between World Cups they are as far away as top-level international soccer teams can be.
Now, in 2014, in advance of their opening Group G matchup in Natal, this rivalry doesn’t bear any great animosity. Instead, there is a deep weariness, plenty of respect, and a hope inside the heart of each nation that they can beat the other.
The Ghana – USA rivalry comes in three succinct parts that had reverberating effects around the football landscape. There was 2006 in Germany, 2010 in South Africa, and this summer, 2014 in Brazil. That’s it – but if you think that this matchup is in any way insignificant, think again.
It seemed simple enough: beat Ghana, bank on a battered Czech Republic not beating eventual champion Italy, and the United States – though humbled and bloody – would scrape into the knockout round.
For a team that had been shattered 3-0 by the Czechs in their first game and managed to hang on with nine men to draw against the Italians, playing Ghana was a lifeline.
In 2002, the Americans went to the quarterfinals in South Korea and but for some bad luck and a bounce or two, could have gone farther.
Going into Germany, Bruce Arena’s team was ranked as high as fourth in world. But things went wrong immediately. First off, the US were handed a killer draw. The Czechs were at their best – one of the top five teams in the world – while Italy was reeling from a match-fixing scandal but strong, and Arena knew that Ghana’s athleticism and power would give the US trouble.
“We will have our hands full,” Arena said after the draw.
He thought. “We’re done.”
There were other problems. Landon Donovan was coming off a second disastrous spell in Germany and in a bad place mentally, and the spine of the team – Brian McBride, Claudio Reyna, Eddie Pope, and Kasey Keller – were old, older, and oldest.
Yes, the team was alive – but barely. They knew the end of an era was coming.
Ghana, meanwhile, were appearing in their first World Cup, and nothing great was expected. In a group with the USA and two European powers, they were expected to be the three points all the big sides could guarantee.
Italy brushed by Ghana 2-0 in the opening game, but then the Ghanians sprung a surprise, beating the Czech Republic in Cologne.
Now, the winner of the USA-Ghana game would go through to the Round of 16.