Substitute John Brooks rises to the occasion after Clint Dempsey drills in first goal
Revenge has rarely tasted any sweeter. The USA, eliminated by Ghana at each of the past two World Cups, looked to have suffered another cruel blow at the hands of their tormentors, giving up an 82nd-minute equaliser in a match they had led from the 29th second. But Jurgen Klinsmann’s team refused to be cowed. John Brooks, a second-half substitute and central defender playing in his first official match for his country, rose to power home a header that sent the vast American contingent in Natal into raptures.
It was a goal of tremendous significance. A draw here could not formally have eliminated either team, but with each still to play Germany and Portugal, it would not have been a result to make either side happy.
Ghana could not have started this game any worse. Clint Dempsey, receiving a pass from Jermaine Jones on the left, stepped easily around John Boye — who had moved too hastily — before drilling a low finish beyond Adam Kwarasey’s outstretched boot.
It was the fastest goal of this World Cup, and the fifth-quickest in tournament history.
The roar at Natal’s Estadio das Dunas was electrifying. Local reports had claimed before the game that as many as 20,000 American fans would be in attendance, but they sounded like twice that number.
Disoriented by the early goal, they waged a frantic war in the middle of the pitch, exchanging misplaced passes. Ghana’s first foray into opposition territory did not arrive until the seventh minute, when Asamoah Gyan surged down the right and swung a cross in towards Jordan Ayew.
But Tim Howard was wise to their intentions, stepping forward to make an easy claim.
The next real opportunity came to USA, Jozy Altidore running onto a Fabian Johnson cross that had evaded its intended target, Michael Bradley, in the middle of the box. The striker steadied himself before crushing the ball goalwards, but was denied by a desperate defensive lunge.
That would be Altidore’s final contribution of the half, and potentially of this World Cup. Just three minutes later, the striker pulled up while chasing a ball down the left. For USA this was not a promising sight. There had been no defenders near Altidore when he went down, and he departed on a stretcher in what appeared to be considerable discomfort.
He was replaced by Aron Johansson, although it would be Alejandro Bedoya who reasserted USA’s attacking intentions, blasting a long-range effort over the bar.
Gyan came close to equalising before the half, manoeuvring his way into half a yard of space just outside the box before letting fly with a well-struck shot that Howard did well to palm away.
Moments later Dempsey tumbled to the turf with a bloodied nose after being caught in the face by a dangerously high boot from John Boye.
That would not be the last of his team’s injury concerns. Centre-back Matt Besler was seen clutching his hamstring towards the end of the first half, and subsequently had to be replaced by Brooks.
Ghana were quick to assert themselves against their opponents’ reshuffled defensive line. Within 10 minutes into the second half, Christian Atsu, Sulley Muntari and Gyan had all flashed efforts just high or wide of Howard’s goal.
His opposite number, Kwarasey, was far less assured in dealing with an optimistic 25-yard attempt from Jones. Although the shot flew straight at the goalkeeper, he allowed it to squirm out of his grasp. But USA did not capitalise.
At the time, it was a lone moment of respite for the Americans in what had become an unrelenting assault.
The victory seemed to have slipped when Andre Ayew seized on a devilish back-heel from Gyan in the box, before pulverising it beyond Howard. For once, USA had faced down Ghana, and lived to tell the tale.