Playing for Africa, Ghana faces US at World Cup

RUSTENBURG, South Africa (AP) — Whether buoyed or burdened by carrying Africa’s hopes at the World Cup, Ghana now finds its route to the quarterfinals blocked by a United States side out to avenge a contentious loss four years ago.

The Ghanians reached this round of 16 at the 2006 World Cup — also as Africa’s last remaining representative — courtesy of a penalty that still rankles with the Americans.

“An injustice,” said defender Oguchi Onyewu, who was adjudged to have fouled Razak Pimpong while going for a header. “I still to this day don’t know where the foul came from.”

Ghana midfielder Stephen Appiah converted from the spot to clinch a 2-1 win and eliminate the Americans.

“That was not a good day — for me or the team,” United States midfielder Landon Donovan said. “What I remember most personally was my tentativeness and the immediate feeling afterwards of the finality of it, and how disappointing that was.”

Donovan helped to partially erase those painful memories with his injury-time winner against Algeria on Wednesday.

In the first Group C matches, the United States held England to a 1-1 draw and recovered from two goals down to draw 2-2 with Slovenia and had a third goal disallowed in the final minutes.

The Americans must now win a second straight World Cup match for the first time since 1930 on Saturday to reach the quarterfinals, as it did in 2002.

The Americans have already broken one 80-year hex in South Africa — winning their group. And the 2009 Confederations Cup finalists are starting to imagine contesting a first World Cup final.

“If we continue to build on the successes so far, we can go to the end,” United States coach Bob Bradley said Friday at Royal Bafokeng Stadium, where Saturday’s match will be played.

“We have shown an ability to move the ball quickly and intelligently. We have some individuals who have made the special plays you need to win championships.”

Bradley, though, is wary of athletic ability of Ghana, which was denied a fifth African title earlier this year by Egypt.

“They are dangerous because they have individual players who you think they are going to pass and at the last second they dribble,” Bradley said. “You think they are going to go left and they surprise you and go right. They have unpredictability. You are not always sure what they are going to do.”

United States striker Clint Dempsey has an idea since he plays with right back John Pantsil at Premier League club Fulham. As does United States captain Carlos Bocanegra, who lines up with striker Asamoah Gyan at French club Rennes.

While the Americans hope each World Cup success will help to grow football’s following back home as well as the team’s, Ghana can expect to be backed by Africa’s 1 billion inhabitants.

“Ghana has acquired a lot of new supporters not only in Africa,” Ghana coach Milan Rajevac said through a translator. “I hope after this match, Ghana will have even more supporters worldwide, which is a great satisfaction for us.”

Ghana is the continent’s last remaining hope at the first World Cup to be staged in Africa, with the Ivory Coast on Friday following Cameroon, Nigeria, Algeria and host nation South Africa in going out of the tournament.

“We want to do it for Africa,” Ghana midfielder Sulley Muntari said. “We want to break records.”

Ghana, though, has only scored two goals in South Africa — both penalties by Gyan — in beating Serbia 1-0 and holding Australia to a 1-1 draw. Ghana advanced despite losing its last Group D match 1-0 to Germany.

“Over the last three matches we had a lot of chances and half chances, but this World Cup requires a lot of energy and force,” Rajevac said. “The players don’t have any more strength (after a long season). That is why we have missed so many opportunities.

“But if it comes to penalties (in a shootout), Gyan has shown he can perform well. Also we have a lot of players who came up from the under-20 side that won the Under-20 World Cup (last year) on penalties.”

Muntari’s place in the team does not appear under threat despite his uneasy relationship with Ghana officials for abusing the coach following the Australia draw.

“He has performed well in training,” Rajevac said, not elaborating. “I will see if he starts or enters during the game.”

Ghana is showing it can cope without injured midfielder Michael Essien.

“I thought they’d struggle a little bit without Essien,” Donovan said. “But they’ve looked very good … like a lot of African teams, they’re fairly unpredictable.”

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.