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U.S. World Cup Ends
June 22, 2006

Bob Wagman of Soccer Times describes the United States men’s 2-1 loss to Ghana today as “the most disturbing of all possible results” as the U.S. received the help it needed when Italy defeated the Czech Republic 2-0 however, just couldn’t get the job done themselves and will go home with just one point and in last place in their group.
Bad penalty call punctuates ineptitude as U.S. World Cup ends.

By Robert Wagman

NUREMBERG, Germany (Thursday, June 22, 2006) — The United States men’s 2-1 loss to Ghana today was the most disturbing of all possible results. Italy defeated the Czech Republic 2-0, which meant had the U.S. received the help it needed and would have advanced out of the World Cup’s Group E with a victory.

The Americans, however, just couldn’t get the job done and will go home with just one point and in last place after losing to Ghana and the Czechs, sandwiched around their draw with Italy.

The turning point in the match came in first-half stoppage time when Ghana was handed a penalty kick on a highly questionable call. Much will be made of this gift goal, but in the end what did the U.S. in was the inability, plainly shown throughout the three matches, to create good scoring chances and then to convert some.

“To have that call in the 47th minute after we worked so hard to get back in the game is difficult,” said Arena, after his team battled back to erase a 1-0 deficit before losing on a tainted tally. “I feel sorry for our team. We played a very good game, but certainly were at fault the second half for not doing better with some of our chances. But to be put in the position of having to chase the game on that (penalty) call was kind of remarkable in a game at this level. It’s just disappointing.

“We had control of the game, but instead we went in at halftime down a goal. Had we gone in tied, knowing a win would get us into the next round, that would have been great.”

What the penalty kick before the half did was to completely change the way Ghana needed to play the second 45 minutes. With Italy winning, Ghana knew it would advance with a draw, so it bunkered in, knowing all it needed to do to advance (and eliminate the U.S.) was to prevent the Americans from scoring two goals.

“We had to chase the game against a team that obviously was very content to lay back and to keep us off the scoreboard,” Arena said.

Arena started his usual 4-5-1 formation with some variations. He moved Eddie Lewis, who started the first Cup game on the left side of defense to the midfield flank, while equally left-sided DaMarcus Beasley, who started the opening match on the right side, played inside Lewis on the left. Clint Dempsey oped on the right midfield flank, with Landon Donovan in the middle.

Claudio Reyna moved into a deeper midfield role– replacing suspended defensive midfielder Pablo Mastroeni, — before he left early with an injury, suffered when he was stripped of the ball, resulting in Ghana’s first goal. This left much of the midfield offensive responsibility to Donovan and Beasley.

The Black Stars were without two of their better offensive players, Asamoah Gyan and Sulley Muntari, who were responsible for both of Ghana’s goals against the Czech Republic in its 2-0 win. Much of Ghana’s game revolved around Michael Essien, the outstanding midfielder for Chelsea of the English Premier League, and Stephen Appiah. The Black Stars played both their strikers high throughout the entire match in an attempt to spread the U.S. defense, but the Americans stayed compact and for most of the opening 45 minutes and got the better of play.

Both of Ghana’s goals were unfortunate for the U.S. The first was scored because of a grievous defensive error when Haminu Draman came up on Reyna’s blind side, tackled him hard, took the ball away with a clash of knees, and then went in on alone on Kasey Keller. The U.S. keeper did his best, but Draman accurately deposited the ball in the far right side netting in the 22nd minute.

Reyna left the match for awhile, returned hobbled and bravely went on until he 40th minute when he asked out. His ailment was later described to be a strained medial collateral ligament, something that will probably sideline him for three-to-four weeks.

In the 43rd minute, Beasley curled a perfect lead pass to Dempsey — the sort of feed that has been absent from the American arsenal in here in Germany — and Dempsey laced his shot into the far left side of the net. The U.S. euphoria was short-lived when German referee Markus (The Dentist) Merk, who has a reputation as the sternest referee in the his country’s Bundesliga, proved that even the best of referees can make extremely poor calls.

As U.S. central defender Oguchi Onyewu won an aerial challenge with Razak Pimpong, there was only incidental contact, not enough to warrant a foul, no less a penalty kick in the closing moments of the first half. Appiah went high and into the left corner of the net with an unstoppable penalty kick, putting Ghana ahead 2-1 at the break.

Once again in clear evidence during the opening 45 minutes was the U.S. inability to get create offensive chances. Even though the Americans controlled play, Dempsey running on to Beasley’s perfect pass and blasting it home, otherwise the U.S. sprayed its shots everywhere but on net. It was the only goal the U.S. would score in this World Cup, sparing its tying own goal against Italy on Saturday.

The second half saw Ghana drop back and allow the U.S. often to attack almost at will. Ghana had a couple of counterattack chances, but otherwise was content to simply block every American chance and to waste time.

The one big chance for the U.S. came on one of the few good crosses from Lewis to the single forward, Brian McBride, who hit the left post with a angled, diving header in the 66th minute. Two minutes later, Onyewuth was set up for a close-in header, but he missed the open top left corner of the net.

“Our free kicks were poorly taken for the most part. We are at fault for that,” Arena admitted. “We had some chances on free kicks and from the run of play to put some better balls into the box and we didn’t. But the Ghanaian team did well to have numbers back in the box and we had to serve some better balls and we didn’t.”

So four years after a euphoric run to the 2002 World Cup quarterfinals, the U.S. now faces a re-examination of its program and the people who run it. All three of its World Cup efforts were disappointing and the question must be asked — shouldn’t the U.S. have done better?