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World Cup: US loses tight match to Ghana 2-1

Team USA puts up spirited fight but is knocked out by Ghana's Black Stars.

Asamoah Gyan
Ghana's Asamoah Gyan celebrates after scoring against the United States in extra time during a 2010 World Cup second round match at Royal Bafokeng stadium in Rustenburg June 26, 2010. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

RUSTENBURG, South Africa – The United States was again part of a thriller match in its second-round clash with Ghana but this time Team U.S.A. failed to secure a happy ending.

The Black Stars defeated the Americans 2-1 on an overtime goal and continue their unlikely run as last remaining hope for Africa in this first World Cup on African soil. They will face Uruguay on Friday in Johannesburg. Earlier Saturday, the South Americans defeated South Korea 2-1 in pouring rain in Port Elizabeth.

Saturday’s encounter represented an enormous opportunity for two teams that are not considered among the powerhouses of the sport. The U.S.’ only semifinal dates back to the inaugural World Cup tournament of 1930, and this year is only Ghana’s second World Cup appearance after a second-round showing four years ago.

Better-ranked and having won its group, U.S. entered Saturday’s match as a slight favorite, but Ghana, which qualified for the last 16 on goal differential, undoubtedly fancied its chances against a team that has alternatively displayed remarkable gumption and near-fatal lapses in concentration.

Both teams started the game with clear attacking intentions, but it’s Ghana that proved the most efficient. After barely four minutes of play, forward Kevin-Prince Boateng took advantage of a loose ball in midfield, surged forward and sent the ball past a diving Tim Howard. For the third time in four World Cup matches, the U.S. was trailing in the opening minutes.

And it could have been worse. During the entire first half, the Black Stars thoroughly outplayed the Americans and created several additional scoring opportunities through swift counterattacking moves.

By the time the second half started, the U.S. appeared ready to stage one of its customary comebacks. The team played with more urgency; passes were more accurate. And as they had done on two previous occasions in this World Cup they did come back, courtesy of a clinical penalty kick by specialist Landon Donovan in the 62nd minute following a foul on Clint Dempsey.

Momentum seemed to have shifted. Ghana looked deflated, and the exit of goal scorer Boateng further decreased Ghana’s chances of victory. The score was still tied at 1-1 after regulation time, but only minutes into the extra time Ghana forward Asamoah Gyan chased a long ball and sent a left-foot missile above Howard’s stretched hands.

That blow proved too much for a U.S. team that has been praised for its resilience, and the score didn’t move until the whistle was blown.

Despite being the last African representative in the tournament, Ghana did not enjoy a clear home advantage Saturday.

Based on the number of U.S. and Ghanaian flags waved at kickoff, loyalties appeared pretty evenly divided among the crowd of 34,976 — which included former President Bill Clinton and Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger — that almost filled the 39,000-seat Royal Bafokeng Stadium.

The U.S. team has been able to count on a large contingent of American supporters for each of its games — more tickets were sold in the U.S. than in any other country outside South Africa — but Team U.S.A. has developed a strong following among locals.