Next Step for the Yanks: Ghana

Courtesy nwistheone Flickr

By Kevin Koczwara

Bob Bradley came out with the perfect game plan against Algeria to secure a victory for the United States Men’s National Team, earning the top spot in group C and a spot in the next round of the World Cup.

Bradley’s substitutions were spot on and his plan to attack The Desert Foxes from the first whistle was perfectly executed by his men on the field, well, almost perfectly.

The Yanks edged by Algeria with a stoppage time goal from Landon Donovan in what was an end-to-end game from the start. Both teams had plenty of chances because of the open play, but only one shot ever made it into the net – sorry Clint Dempsey.

Algeria had the first chance of the game when Rafik Djebbour hit a volley inside the American’s box off of the crossbar after a Jay DeMerit miscue. Djebbour’s chance early was Algeria’s best shot at Tim Howard and the Americans’ goal all day.

The United States attacked the Africans’ net relentlessly. The Yanks hit the post, had a goal disallowed and had more than one mishit shot end up either directly at Rais M’Bolhi, Algeria’s goalkeeper, or over the net.

The Desert Foxes had a slim chance of moving on to the next stage. They had to beat the Americans and pray for some help from Slovenia. The Green Dragons had to win their match against England. So, Algeria’s defense was stretched from the start of the match as it tried to get forward and score its first goal of the tournament.

The United States knew that if it won it would advance, and possibly as the top seed of its group. If the Yanks lost, they had little chance of moving on because they needed England to falter for a third time in the tournament – which would have been suicide for the English who were named as favorites to win the World Cup – against Slovenia.

The Americans had their chances and seemed to come up short on each occasion. It looked as though the soccer gods were looking down and laughing at the Yanks struggles and bad luck. It was a long game that only got longer as each minute ticked away and the 0-0 scoreline stayed the same. Then Landon Donovan broke the curse in stoppage time and the soccer gods finally allowed the Yanks to get what they worked so hard for.

Donovan broke free on a great throw from Howard and found himself with roughly an acre of open space in Algeria’s half. Donovan passed the ball to Jozy Altidore in space who crossed the ball to a streaking Dempsey in the box. M’Bohli saved Dempsey’s attempt, but this time there was someone there to put the rebound in the net and finish off the chance on net. Donovan found the rebound in the front of goal with no one in his way and put the ball in the back of the net to give the U.S. the goal it needed and the win it needed to move onto the next round.

It was a remarkable moment and proof that hard work and persistence pay off.

Now the United States has to look forward to playing another African nation, Ghana, in the round of 16. The Yanks finished top of their group and were rewarded for their good work. The Yanks will not have to take on the feared and always tough Germans, but they got a very good Ghana team to deal with – then, who isn’t a very good team at this point in the tournament?

Ghana is Africa’s last hope for this World Cup, despite it being held in Africa for the first time ever. It is an understatement to say that there is a lot of pressure on Ghana because it is Africa’s last gasp to win the World Cup

The Americans have a tough task at hand with the Africans.

History

Ghana ended the United States World Cup dreams in 2006 when the teams met on the last day of group play, and the Americans needed a win to advance. The Black Stars beat the Americans, 2-1, and ended up advancing out of the group stage instead of the Yanks. It was a bitter defeat for the USMNT.

When the Yanks beat Algeria to advance to the knockout rounds little did many us know that the team was rewriting history. The USMNT had never taken a point from the final game in the group stage of the World Cup, nevermind earned three points with a win. That trend ended with Donovan’s emphatic marker against Algeria.

Howard’s clean sheet was the first for the United States in 13 matches, and the first time since 1950 that the U.S. had held a clean sheet in the group stages of the World Cup, 19 matches total. The last time the U.S. had a clean sheet at the World Cup was in 1950 when they shocked England.

Donovan’s goal was his 44th in the red-white-and-blue jersey. He is the USMNT’s all-time leading goal scorer, pushing him 10 goals ahead of Fox Soccer Channel commentator and USMNT legend Eric Wynalda.

If the United States makes it past the Black Stars of Ghana it will be the second time in three World Cups the Americans make it to the quarter-finals of the World Cup Finals. The last time it advanced that far was in 2002 when it lost to eventual finalists Germany. The Americans have advanced out of the group stage at the World Cup Finals three out of the last six competitions, when the U.S.ended a 50-year absence from the World Cup.

Good news for the Yanks, the Germans won’t be a bump in their path unless the two teams meet in an unlikely final in South Africa. For now the current U.S. squad should relish in its heart-stopping win over Algeria (I’m fairly sure I had a small heart attack when Donovan scored, or a small stroke, not too sure though, so yes it was heart-stopping) and begin to prepare for Ghana on Saturday.

Kevin Koczwara is a contributing editor and writer for The Soccer Guys. He can be reached at kevin.koczwar@thesoccerguysonline.com.

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