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World Cup: American epitaph

We have witnessed, arguably, the best performance by an US team in World Cup history.

The U.S. team somehow defied the death part, coming from behind in its first two games to salvage ties, then scoring in the final seconds of its third game when all appeared lost. But soccer, especially World Cup soccer, is not a game of ninth-inning rallies or two-minute drills with Peyton Manning at the helm. In the world’s game, you can win without scoring, but playing from behind is ultimately an exit strategy.

Against Ghana, the American team’s inexplicable penchant for surrendering early goals dug it another hole. And though it mustered one more comeback, the effort was physically and emotionally draining. In the end, Ghana rose to the occasion with a brilliant overtime goal to send the Americans packing. Newly minted soccer sophisticates here should be able to muster a healthy talk-radio fury about why coach Bob Bradley reverted to Ricardo Clark in the starting lineup.

If American soccer fans went into the tournament obsessed about England, it may be time to turn our attention to Ghana, which, after all, gave the U.S. team the boot for the second consecutive World Cup. Ghana, like the United States, is part of soccer’s new wave that is challenging the game’s traditional power structure. How wonderful to see these teams, along with South Korea and Japan, win while playing creative, attacking soccer, even as disinterested and dispirited teams like France and Italy went home to lick their wounds.

In forging its soccer future, Ghana may not be blessed with America’s population or economic advantages. But it has a surfeit of talent. It is the youngest team in the tournament, not so surprising after Ghana defeated Brazil to win the Under-20 World Cup just last year.

The senior Black Stars have played on soccer’s biggest stage only twice and, for the second World Cup in a row, were the sole African team to survive round-robin play. With their victory over the U.S., they have now become only the third African team to reach the quarterfinals; one more triumph and, for Africa, it will be traversing completely new terrain.

The considerable freight that Ghana carries — the weight of an entire continent’s dreams — makes it far easier not only to accept the American defeat, but to embrace our worthy conquerors. After all, America has always loved the underdog. Ghana has now advanced into the round that has always been ruled by the Brazilians, the Germans, the Argentineans and a few, select others. In keeping with the American spirit — perhaps even with an emerging American soccer spirit — it is easy to imagine that right now we are all Ghanaians.