JOHANNESBURG – The United States will try to match its best-ever World Cup performance and Ghana will be aiming to keep an African presence in the tournament when the two clash in the round of 16 on Saturday.
After two weeks of group games, the World Cup begins moving toward its climax, with the opening games of the knockout second round pitting the US against Ghana in Rustenburg, and Uruguay against South Korea in Port Elizabeth.
The group stages ended Friday with Brazil and Portugal progressing from Group G, while Spain and Chile made it out of Group H, continuing an impressive showing by the Latin sides at the tournament.
The US and Ghana can be regarded as the gritty survivors of the group stage.
The Americans trailed in both of their first two group games, 1-0 against England and 2-0 against Slovenia, but fought back both times to salvage draws.
Then came the drama of the final group game, when it was deadlocked at 0-0 against Algeria entering second half stoppage time, and the scoreline in the simultaneous Group B game, England-Slovenia, meaning the US was facing a premature flight home.
Landon Donovan then put himself in the right place at exactly the right time to slot home a last-gasp winning goal, sending the Americans into the round of 16 at Slovenia’s expense.
It is the third time the Americans have made it to the business end of a World Cup, and a win over Ghana will put them into a quarterfinal, matching the 2002 team.
Ghana is the sole survivor among African teams at the continent’s first World Cup. Many commentators thought the Africans would lift on home soil, but they proved to be a disappointment, with Cameroon, Algeria, Ivory Coast, Nigeria and hosts South Africa all exiting at the group stage.
Ghana made it, but in less than exhilarating fashion. Over three group matches, the team failed to score in open play, with its 1-0 win over Serbia and 1-1 draw with Australia coming with the aid of a penalty and a red card against each of those opponents.