Playing for Africa, Ghana faces US at World Cup

Johannesburg: Ghana will carry the hopes of Africa when it takes on the United States in the World Cup round of 16 on Saturday.

The Black Stars are the only African team to have survived this far, with the Ivory Coast needing a bundle of goals in its last group stage match today to advance.

Cameroon, Nigeria, Algeria and host nation South Africa have all been eliminated in the first World Cup in Africa.

Midfielder Sulley Muntari doesn`t seem to be weighed down by the expectations, saying the Ghanaians want to at least reach the semifinals, which no African team has done before.

"We want to do it for Africa. We want to break records," Muntari said.

First, though, Ghana must get past a tight-knit US team with a never-say-die attitude. The Americans won Group C in spectacular fashion, with Landon Donovan scoring an injury-time goal against Algeria to see his team through to the second round.

In previous matches, the US held England 1-1 and recovered from two goals down to draw Slovenia 2-2, with a third American goal disallowed in the final minutes.

"I wish we could understand it better but for whatever reason we seem to grow in strength and confidence as the game goes on," goalkeeper Tim Howard said. "Now I`ve just got to figure out and make sure we don`t concede early."

Ghana lost its final Group D match 1-0 to Germany but advanced anyway thanks to Australia, which beat Serbia 2-1 in a simultaneous match. The Ghanaians beat Serbia 1-0 in the opener and drew 1-1 with Australia in game two. Both of Ghana`s goals were penalties, scored by Asamoah Gyan, which has raised some questions about the team`s scoring ability.

"It`s a fact that we haven`t scored from open play, but it does not mean that we can`t play," Muntari said. "We will continue working hard on it."

A four-time African champion, Ghana is in the World Cup for only the second time. It beat the United States 2-1 in the final group stage match in 2006, eliminating the Americans from the tournament. Ghana lost 3-0 to Brazil in the round of 16.

Led by Serb coach Milovan Rajevac, Ghana is hoping to do even better this time, despite the absence of injured star Michael Essien. US coach Bob Bradley called Ghana a "talented team, athletic team, mobile, we all know the types of players Ghana has produced, great youth teams they`ve had and done a great job of turning into very good teams at the full national team level."

A US win at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg would put the Americans in the quarterfinals, something it managed in 2002. With two victories, the Americans would advance to the semifinals for the first time since the original World Cup in 1930, when only 13 nations played.

"Two more wins would be great for us," striker Jozy Altidore said. "But why not four more? Anything`s possible. I mean, we`re in it to win it."

Bureau Report

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