Heartbreak in the 2010 World Cup had multiple meanings, depending on your perspective and your allegiances.
For the United States, heartbreak was being eliminated for the second time in a row by nemesis Ghana 2-1.
But for Ghana, heartbreak was being eliminated in the quarterfinals by Uruguay when Luis Suarez used his hand to block a potential game-winning shot in extra time. Ghana’s Asamoah Gyan missed the ensuing penalty kick. Uruguay won in a shootout.
Two familiar foes aiming for redemption meet Monday in Natal, Brazil, in a 2014 World Cup opener both believe they must win in order to survive Group G, the Group of Death.
Ghana played its final tuneup Monday night, defeating South Korea 4-0 at Sun Life Stadium. The U.S. team arrived in Sao Paulo on Monday, but coach Jurgen Klinsmann paused in Miami to scout Ghana.
What he saw was not that revealing, as Ghana coach Kewesi Appiah pulled key starters in the second half and the Black Stars’ main man, Michael Essien, opted to rest rather than play.
South Korea commanded screaming attention from the small, red-clad, red-horned crowd of supporters shouting Dae-han-min-guk!, which translates roughly to Republic of Korea. But the Red Devils are the second-lowest ranked team in the Cup at No. 57, ahead of only Australia at No. 62.
So Klinsmann might not have carried away much tactical insight. Yet he did catch glimpses of a side that will challenge the weakest link on the U.S. team, the back line.
Ghana, wearing uniforms trimmed in kente fabric, has got speed, skill, imagination and just what Ghana’s president ordered when he threw the team a farewell dinner — confidence.
“We expect you to die a little for your country,” President John Dramani Mahama said. “We respect our opponents, but we don’t fear them.”
Jordan Ayew demonstrated how dangerous Ghana can be as he scored a hat trick, his third goal coming in the 89th minute on a perfect cross from Albert Adomah.
Fatau Dauda looked shaky in goal, but Gyan sped through feeble defense in the 43rd minute on a 25-yard breakaway and popped his shot into the lower-right corner. Then, Gyan led the Black Stars in a choreographed celebration, a zombie-like variation on the Azonto and Mmonko dances Ghana has performed in the past.
“We have three or four we would like to showcase, but it’s up to the players to choose,” Appiah said, smiling.
Gyan has scored four goals in two World Cups, including the late dagger to the United States in South Africa.
Appiah likes his mix of “experienced players trying to leave a name and young players trying to make their mark,” but he will need stellar play from pillars Essien and Kevin-Prince Boateng, who both took sabbaticals from the national team after 2010. Essien plays for AC Milan and Boateng for Schalke. In fact, Boateng, who played for Germany — his mother’s country — as a youth, will meet his brother Jerome, who plays for Germany, in Ghana’s second match on June 21. Portugal is the fourth team in the toughest group.
“It’s like a small World Cup between four teams,” said Bora Milutinovic, who has coached five different teams at the World Cup. He was at Sun Life watching the game and was mobbed by South Korean reporters afterward as they asked for any helpful suggestions he might have for the Red Devils, who play in Group H.
When the United States and Ghana play for the third consecutive time in the World Cup, Ghana will seek to become the first African team to reach the semifinals (which could set up a rematch with Uruguay and the loathed Suarez) after two disappointing finishes in the African Cup the past two years.
Klinsmann has stated the U.S. must beat Ghana to move to the Round of 16. Former national team member and ESPN commentator Alexei Lalas agrees.
“It hinges on Game One,” Lalas said. “They absolutely need a win and three points.”
U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard told FIFA.com.: “The goal is to put our heads down and break out of the cage in that first game against Ghana. It’s crucial for any team to get something from that first game. The importance can’t be overstated. You win that game and you get a feel-good factor working, get some momentum. We don’t want to play catchup in the group stage. We don’t want to be biting our fingernails in that third game and hoping some other team can do us a favor.”