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Monday, June 28, 2010

Football League at World Cup 2010: Update 4

We're into the knockout stage of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

All tournament we're following the fortunes of the Football League players on show at the highest stage of the game.

The group stages left us with two players - Watford's Jay DeMerit and Kevin Prince-Boateng from Portsmouth. Ironically, their countries - USA and Ghana - met in Rustenburg at the weekend.

The United States were Group C winners ahead of England, while Ghana were the sole African side to make the last 16 after finishing runners-up to Germany in Group D.

For one of our players, their South African odyssey was going to come to an end. For the other, a place in the last eight was beckoning. Who would emerge triumphant though?


USA v Ghana
Saturday June 26, 20:30, Rustenburg

The States went into the game buoyed by their last gasp winner against Algeria which, not only saved them from an early flight home, but guaranteed them top spot in Group C.

Ghana, however, suffered their first loss of their World Cup against Germany, which saw them usurped at the top of their group - pitting them against the Americans rather than England.

However, despite the contrasting nature of the two side's previous games, it was the Ghanaians who started the brighter and took the lead after just five minutes.

Sloppy play from Ricardo Clark in midfield saw the Africans seize possession and Kevin Prince-Boateng surged forward from the half way line before firing the ball low past Tim Howard at his near post.

The USA defence, and in particular Jay DeMerit, would have been disappointed with backing off too far and allowing Boateng room to shoot.

It was the Pompey man's first goal of the tournament and the goal helped Ghana grow in confidence as the first period progressed.

Prince-Boateng got Ghana off to the perfect start against the United States

The States struggled to get their game going and Ghana had chances to extend their advantage. DeMerit again at fault as a long ball forward allowed Kwadwo Asamoah to get a shot in at Howard.

The Everton 'keeper was also forced to parry away a fizzing free kick from Asamoah Gyan as the African side - backed by the majority of the crowd - pushed for a second.

However, the US were a changed team after the interval and began to take charge of affairs. Substitute Benny Feilhaber's pace was a constant nuisance for the Ghana defence.

He forced Richard Kingson into a smart stop when through on goal to preserve the African team's advantage. However, just after the hour mark the American's were back on level terms.

Clint Dempsey was brought down in the box by Jonathan Mensah, and Landon Donovan stepped up to fire home the penalty off the post.

Landon Donovan was the USA's hero again with his second half penalty

On the backfoot, Ghana suffered another blow when Prince-Boateng appeared to pull a hamstring and had to be replaced by Stephen Appiah with twelve minutes remaining.

The USA were now firmly in the ascendancy and could have taken the lead through Jozy Altidore, but the former Hull man could only steer his shot narrowly wide of the upright.

However, the game was forced into extra time, and the Ghanaians once again got off to the perfect start after just three minutes. A long ball forward saw Gyan outpace and out muscle DeMerit and fire the ball high over Howard and into the net.

Gyan's goal in extra time created history for Ghana

The Americans were stunned and, but for some balls pumped into the Ghana box, struggled to respond to falling behind. One last chance fell to DeMerit who could only loft a shot over the bar from the edge of the area after Kingson's punch had fallen kindly to him.

For the US, who had come from behind in all three of their group games, this was to prove a step too far. Ghana progress to the last eight of the World Cup for the first time in their history - and only the third African side ever to reach that stage.

They now face Uruguay in Johannesburg's Soccer City stadium for a place in the last four of the 2010 World Cup.

Final score: USA 1 Ghana 2 AET

Despite Boateng's injury - which could force him to miss that game - we will follow Ghana's progress as the Black Stars look to make African footballing history.

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