The United States was eliminated from Germany 2006 by Ghana, the Black Stars winning the third match of group play to go through to the knockout round. For U.S. fans, the idea of redemption helps fuel interest in this match, but for the national team's players, there are bigger issues at hand.
Though this Black Stars team is not getting meaningful contributions of 2006 stalwarts Michael Essien and Stephen Appiah, its depth may make this version better than its predecessors. The States will have to manage a squad emboldened by a group of young talent that sits with Germany's as the world's best. Very few of the players that the U.S. will face today will have memories of 2006; instead, their highlights are composed of a recent youth world title and a near miss at their year's continental championship.
United States, Going Forward: The U.S. is more effective when counter-attacking, and when they're not given the opportunities to do so they have nothing you can point at and say "that's what they do well." Instead, it's resourcefulness that seems to be their main attribute, something becomes dangerous when you have the States' athletes. With players like Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, and Jozy Altidore, Bob Bradley has a core of players who have the ability and versatility to take advantage of whatever openings are presented. With the United States' ability to pressure their opponents and execute at the end of matches, that athleticism becomes scary. Right, Algeria?
But unless the U.S. wants to be gassed within 30 minutes, they can't play with the constant intensity needed to take advantage of their athleticism for 90 minutes. Perhaps this is why you see the United States control matches in spurts. Thankfully (for supporters of the U.S.), those spurts have been well-timed in their last two matches.
If there is a tactical advantage the States possesses, it's through Landon Donovan. On the U.S.'s right wing, Donovan will be matched against André Ayew and Hans Sarpei. Ayew is a 20-year-old winger who Marseille had loaned-out for the last two years. Sarpei is a veteran left back who serves as a reserve for one of Donovan's old teams, Bayer Leverkusen. Defending on the left, the pair can be exploited by Donovan, who can give the likes of Altidore, Robbie Findley, and Dempsey the opportunity to use their athleticism when Donovan gets behind the line.
Ghana, Going Forward: Milovan Rajevac is one of the more patient coaches in this tournament. Though he has the depth of talent to compete with almost anybody, the Serb prefers to wait for his opposition to present an opening, making Ghana's matches methodical, deliberate affairs, explaining why the Black Stars finished group play have scored and allowed two goals.
The United States is prone to mistakes in defense, and Ghana's ability to take advantage of them will depend on how central midfielder Kwadwo Asamoah reads the play. The 21-year-old Udinese attacker has been a key component of successful Ghanian efforts at last summer's U-20 World Cup (winners) and January's African Cup of Nations (runners-up). He has a quality striker in Asamoah Gyan, playing alone up top, with the combination coming close throughout this tournament to completing a final ball which would see Ghana finally score an open-play goal.
How The Match Turns: If Ghana can start putting-in those final balls with the necessary precision - be they from Asamoah or wingers Ayew and Prince Tagoe - the Black Stars will win. Else, they are lying in wait for the United States to take this match.
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