Thursday, June 22, 2006

U.S. v. Ghana Preview.

The U.S. v. Ghana game starts in little under an hour. Ghana will be without goalscorers Gyan and Muntari. The U.S. will be without defender Eddie Pope and midfielder Pablo Mastroeni. A few bullet points about this game:

- the U.S. has never won a match on European soil.
- Kasey Keller has never won a World Cup match in Europe
- The U.S. has only one shot on target so far, the lowest number of any team.
- To advance the U.S. needs to beat Ghana and hope Italy wins. Otherwise they need to win by more than four goals if the Czechs beat Italy (a tall order for a team with only one shot on goal thus far).
- A Ghana victory would see them through to the second round where, if Italy does not tie Czech Republic, they would play Brazil. Here's what Ghana's coach Ratomire Dujkovic had to say about the potential of playing Brazil in the second round: "Facing Brazil, well, you know the Ghana Black Stars have a nickname, the Brazil of Africa," he said. "So that will be a great match, two Brazilians." After defeating the Czech Republic, Ghana's president had this to say: "We've beaten the second-best team in the world, who else is left?" Needless to say the Ghanaians are a confident bunch going into today's match.

The key to the game may be how well the U.S. is able to slow down Ghana's midfield. The trio of Essien, Kuffour and Appiah has been impressive thus far. They attack constantly for 90 minutes and never seem to tire. Ghana needs to continue playing their wide open football but a failure to pay attention to defensive duties may leave them exposed at the back. The game will also be a test for Donovan and Reyna because they are up against a truly world class midfielder in Essien who will harass them both for 90 minutes. If the U.S. are going to win this game they are going to need to attack down the wings because I don't think Essien or Appiah will be giving an inch in the middle of the park. The U.S. should have ample opportunities to get on the scoreboard and get shots on target because judging by Ghana's first two games thir main focus is to attack and worry about defensive duties later. Ghana is probably the one team the U.S. will face in the tournament that is similar to their CONCACAF opponents they faced in qualifying.

If U.S. coach Bruce Arena cannot get his tactics right to win this game it may be time for the U.S. to look elsewhere for someone to lead this team. Someone like Hiddink or Van Gaal, men with the tactical nous to succeed on the world stage, may be the ideal replacement for Arena. My prediction for the game is a Ghana victory. I like their strength iin midfield and I like their shoot on sight approach. The only cause for caution is that they are without their key forward Asamoah Gyan and that makes me wonder where the goals will come from. With Essien and Appiah attacking and patroling the midfield I put my money on Ghana coming out of this one as victors.

In the other game, I suspect Italy will defeat the Czechs. They Czechs again are without their forawrds and the burden is on Nedved and Rosicky to score. If they get too far upfield like they did against Ghana the defense will be exposed and Italy will make them pay. So from the supposed group of death I have Italy and Ghana advancing. More to come after the games.

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