A dejected, physically depleted American team bowed out of the World Cup after going down in extra time to a very efficient Ghana, just as it had captured unprecedented global attention and affection. Having reached this point of the tournament with an impressive display of determination and high-energy, all-out football, the young Americans finally ran out of steam as their physical capacity reached its outer limits in a match they had approached confidently.
As it happened in the England match, USA fell behind early after a silly midfield give-away by Ricardo Clark. In the ensuing play, Ghana’s Prince Boateng picked up the ball and, as he ran at the American defense, unleashed a pin-point strike that Howard merely glanced at. It was the 5th minute and USA once again was required to chase and press to climb back into the match. Ghana capitalized well on its few chances and played mostly disruptively, content to break down the American build-up and burst out on the counter. It took about one hour for USA to get even. USA created more and had one or two real chances to close out the match in regulation, but after 90 minutes the cumulative exhaustion was clear. Altidore was substituted, perhaps prematurely. Donovan and Dempsey did not have great games, both apparently tired. The spring in the American step was visibly off and the last deficit proved too much to overcome.
On the field, the performance was beyond reproach – none had a great day, but every player gave it all. The question is for Bob Bradley: why did he start with Ricardo Clark and Robbie Findley? Both had been ineffective previously and both were ineffective again today. By halftime both were out of the match and two of the three allowed substitutions were gone. Edson Buddle did not get any action, although he was fresh and in good form. Sometimes coaches make decisions on instinct. Up until yesterday, Bradley had made all the correct decisions, but on this occasion he was off. USA exited the tournament with a lot to be proud of and a great platform for higher achievement to built on.
Ghana, Africa’s last hope, will cherish for a long time making it to the last 8 in the world and will definitely aim for more, as they take on Uruguay next. The South Americans managed by El Maestro, Oscar Washington Tabarez, edged out South Korea courtesy of a beautiful dopietta from Luis Suarez, the winning goal coming 10 minutes from time. South Korea once again impressed with a technical effort, but Uruguay prevailed when it mattered and advanced despite the difficult weather conditions of the match. With an experienced team and an attacking trio of Diego Forlan, Luis Suarez and Edison Cavani, Uruguay must be confident in its chances to get to the semifinal stage, while Ghana, with the African public on its side, can only wonder what it would been like if Michael Essien was fit to be in the mix.