Ghana thwarts U.S., 2-1
|||Ching still upbeat despite sitting out|
By Kelly Whiteside
By Kelly Whiteside
NUREMBERG, Germany — The questionable penalty kick awarded to Ghana at the end of the first half will be debated and replayed in the aftermath of the United States' 2-1 World Cup first-round loss to Ghana yesterday.
The loss of the U.S. team's most valuable player, captain Claudio Reyna, to a left knee injury in what will likely be his final World Cup game will be lamented. But whether it was bad karma or bad calls, the U.S. team failed to reach the second round because it failed to come back from a difficult game in a difficult group.
"I think we're to the point where we can't be satisfied with not getting through the group," U.S. midfielder Landon Donovan said. "That was our goal, that was the objective. Things just didn't go our way."
The math was simple. To advance to the second round, the U.S. team needed to beat Ghana and needed Italy to defeat the Czech Republic. But after Reyna was injured in the 22nd minute and Ghana scored to take a 1-0 lead. After the U.S. fought back to tie the game with an emphatic goal, the Americans fell behind again following a questionable penalty-kick call just before halftime.
When hope and time expired, the United States had failed to live up to its end of the bargain. Italy, which defeated the Czech Republic 2-0, and Ghana advanced to the second round. The U.S. team heads home.
"The worst part of is the finality of it," Donovan said. "Last time it was a little bit easier pill to swallow. This time a little more difficult."
At the 2002 World Cup, the U.S. team's magical run to the quarterfinals ended against Germany in a 1-0 loss in which the Americans outplayed the Germans but were denied a penalty kick on an apparent hand ball.
Going home after the first round this time was a disappointment, despite playing in the toughest group.
"For U.S. soccer, I think in another group we had better chances to advance," U.S. coach Bruce Arena said. "Despite the two losses I think we demonstrated something. I'm proud to have been in this group and to have survived into Day 3."
Arena felt his team was hurt twice by referees' calls. In the 1-1 tie against Italy, he questioned the second yellow card defender Eddie Pope received, which sent Pope out of the game and put the U.S. a man down for 43 minutes.
Then yesterday in injury time at the end of the first half, Ghana was awarded a penalty kick when U.S. defender Oguchi Onyewu and Ghana forward Razak Pimpong bumped slightly in the box. Given his size — 6 feet 4, 210 pounds — Onyewu rarely gets the benefit of the doubt. As Arena protested loudly and threw his arms up in disgust, Ghana captain Stephen Appiah scored with a shot to the left as goalkeeper Kasey Keller dived the other way.
"I think we'd all agree that wasn't a good call," said Arena, who added that being down at halftime forced his team to chase the game in the second half as Ghana could move into more of a defensive mode.
Onyewu did not speak to reporters after the game, but Reyna, who had a good look on the controversial play, said: "I think the ref saw that it was just a big guy against a small guy and those guys seem to go against the big guys. Gooch made a good play, he just headed the ball away. He didn't dive in; he didn't do anything. ... It's clear to see (the referee) made a bad decision."
But perhaps the U.S. team's bad luck was already set earlier in the game.
In the 22nd minute, Ghana midfielder Haminu Draman and Reyna knocked knees, Draman won the ball and Reyna collapsed to the grass. Reyna left the field on a stretcher. On the sideline, Reyna stood up and tested his left knee.
"It's not just the injury, the goal. That's horrible luck," Donovan said. "It hurts us. (Reyna) makes the game for us, and we lost that."
Reyna returned to the game about four minutes later, but it was clear his left knee was a problem. Reyna departed what could be the final game of his U.S. career in the 40th minute.
"In such a big game, the smart decision was to come off," Reyna said. "I wanted to carry on, but I made the decision for the team."
Three minutes after Reyna left, U.S. midfielder DaMarcus Beasley won the ball in a crowd, split two defenders on the left and sliced a perfectly placed cross to an onrushing Clint Dempsey, who one-timed a ball forcefully from 8 yards to tie the game.
Dempsey pounded his chest hard with his fist, then swayed his hips in a silly dance. It was to be the Americans' last dance.
Now it will be up to players like Donovan, who played below his standard against Ghana, to carry the U.S. team.
"I think people can see we were good enough," Donovan said. "I don't think we're the team that gets trounced by everybody anymore. We were in a very good position to get through and we didn't take advantage of it."