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 African nation that has made great strides in their region over the years – not that many outside of that region take notice. In the third straight World Cup, the countries will face each other believing that they can and will beat the other.
The Ghana–USA rivalry so far 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.
It seemed simple enough: Beat Ghana, bank on a battered Czech Republic losing to 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 against the Italians, playing Ghana was a lifeline. 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 Black Stars shocked people by beating the Czech Republic 2-0 in Cologne. Now, the winner of this game would go through to the knockout stage.
The Americans were favorites. But one look at the team-sheets would have told you that the U.S. was in trouble. U.S. manager Bruce Arena had the elder statesman Claudio Reyna in midfield to combat the bulldog Ghanaian duo of Stephan Appiah and Michael Essien. The Americans were without Eddie Pope in the center of defense so fringe player Jimmy Conrad stepped in for his first World Cup game.
It was an early nightmare for the U.S. when Reyna was stripped of the ball, got hurt 22 minutes in and Ghana scored the opener. In the 40th minute, Reyna had to be stretchered off and his international career was over. But the Americans fought and as the game went on, they started to take over. On the stroke of halftime, DeMarcus Beasley slung a perfect cross into a charging Clint Dempsey, which the current U.S. captain smashed in on the volley. Suddenly, the Americans were one goal from the knockout round.
But two minutes later, Ghana received a questionable penalty. With the smallest nudge from Oguchi Oneywu, Ghana forward Razak Pimpong dropped to the ground and the referee point to the spot. Ghana’s then captain Stephen Appiah scored from the spot-kick to give the four-time African Cup of Nations winners a 2-1 lead heading into halftime. Though the Americans threatened in the second half, they didn’t find an equalizer let alone the two goals they needed. Ghana won 2-1 and went through. It was the Ghanaians introduction to the world stage.
The first thing to understand about Ghana’s meeting with the U.S. in the round of 16 at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa was the incredible emotion involved. The Black Stars were the only African team remaining at first World Cup ever hosted on the continent. It was up to them to fly the flag for their country but also in a broader sense, for all of Africa. The United States were coming off the most dramatic moment in their history, Landon Donovan’s stoppage time winner against Algeria to send the U.S. from the brink of oblivion to the knockout round. In the US, support was unprecedented. A rare and treasured sense of national pride had been conjured and soccer finally had the center stage.