USA 1:2 a.e.t. Ghana
June 26, 2010
RUSTENBURG, South Africa - Grim-faced American players filed by one by one on their way out of Royal Bafokeng Stadium. Their World Cup was over.
They’ll have four long years to dwell on what might have been, how the most-talented team in U.S. soccer history was knocked out in a game the Americans were convinced they should have won.
Life on the World Cup edge came to an exhausting and crushing end against a familiar foe Saturday night, when Ghana — led by Asamoah Gyan’s goal 3 minutes into overtime — posted a 2-1 victory that ended a thrilling yet futile tournament for the United States in the second round just when it seemed the Americans had a relatively easy path to the semifinals.
"We felt like we had a great opportunity," goalkeeper Tim Howard said. "We just gave ourselves too much of a mountain to climb. We just couldn’t come back."
Kevin-Prince Boateng put Ghana ahead when he stripped the ball from Ricardo Clark in the fifth minute and beat Howard from 16 yards. It was the third time in four games the U.S. fell behind early, and once again the Americans rallied.
Landon Donovan tied the score with a penalty kick in the 62nd minute, his U.S.-record fifth goal in World Cup play and 45th in international football, after Jonathan Mensah pulled down Clint Dempsey streaking in. But that was it.
There was no offense left, no spark, no fire — unlike the first-round come-from-behind draws against England and Slovenia, and Donovan’s memorable injury-time goal against Algeria that lifted the U.S. into the knockout phase.
"We tried to push and push," U.S. captain Carlos Bocanegra said. "I don’t know if we just didn’t have anything left because we had been pushing so much the entire tournament."
All five U.S. goals in the tournament came from the team’s midfield backbone: three by Donovan, one by Dempsey and one by Michael Bradley. No American forward has scored in the World Cup since Brian McBride in 2002.
"I thought we had a good grip," Michael Bradley said. "We were pushing the tempo. We were the ones getting chances."
In the first-ever extra time World Cup game for the U.S., Gyan got the winning goal when he took a long ball from Andre Ayew over the defense and beat Bocanegra, his teammate on the French club Rennes. Gyan let the ball bounce, took a touch with his chest, and with Jay DeMerit vainly trying to catch up, scored over goalkeeper Tim Howard with a left-footed shot from 16 yards.
"I had my angles right there. There no question about it," Howard said. "He absolutely crushed it."
The goal set off horn-honking celebrations in Ghana, a West African country nearly 3,000 miles away.
"We’ve made everybody proud," Gyan said. "Not Ghana alone, but all of Africa."
Ghana, the only African team to advance past the first round of Africa’s first World Cup, eliminated the Americans for the second straight World Cup following a 2-1 win that knocked out the U.S. in the group phase in Germany. The Black Stars join Cameroon (1990) and Senegal (2002) as the only African teams in history to reach the quarterfinals. It will meet Uruguay at Soccer City on Friday.
While the U.S. came from behind to draw England 1-1 and Slovenia 2-2 in the first round, the Americans looked ragged this time. They go home pondering a World Cup that could have been so much more. They thrilled the large number of Americans who were the largest group of overseas ticket buyers, but failed to do as well as the 2002 team, which reached the quarterfinals in the best U.S. finish since 1930.
An upset of European champion Spain in the semifinals of last year’s Confederations Cup in South Africa had raised expectations.