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Erratic Ghana still too good for US

By Timothy Collings
June 23, 2006 00:27 IST
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Ghana gave a performance that mixed the best and worst of African football on Thursday as they overcame a disappointing United States to book their place in the World Cup second round.

In an evenly contested, nervy and error-strewn final group E game at the Frankenstadion, the Ghanaians only rarely found a rhythm to match their supporters' superb drumming musical support.

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They attacked fitfully, as if too worried about the occasion to allow their natural instincts to prevail, and had to rely on powerful and clumsy defending.

Towering centre-back John Mensah was particularly dominant as he repelled the Americans' aerial assaults.

It was fitting, when Mensah pulled off his shirt at the end, that he revealed a white vest on which was emblazoned "The Rock of Gibraltar".

That is what he was to the Ghana team when the United States began pressing and blitzing.

A goal ahead after 22 disjointed minutes, thanks to Haminu Dramani's swift punishment of Claudio Reyna, for being caught in possession, Ghana then contrived to gift Clint Dempsey a 43rd minute equaliser.

Three Ghana defenders went for the same ball out on the right and when they won it, Derek Boateng immediately gifted it to DaMarcus Beasley who ran clear and crossed for Dempsey to steer the ball in.  

Ghana were then lucky themselves when referee Markus Merk harshly adjudged that the tall Oguchi Onyewu had fouled the diminutive Razak Pimpong as he headed clear in first-half stoppage time.

SUBLIME SKILL

Captain Stephen Appiah, their most effective player, drilled home the resultant penalty and the stage was set for a second half to savour.

Moments of sublime skill and imagination were there, but they were too few and far between on a shapeless afternoon when Merk seemed to do his best to out-whistle the African fans' beat.

For the second time in five days, the 44-year-old German dentist left a World Cup pitch to the sound of jeering and booing for his performance.

He annoyed many Australian fans last Sunday for giving Brazil too much protection in Munich and this time left both sets of supporters frustrated, waving play on after obvious fouls and then stopping the play repeatedly for seemingly invisible offences.

His display contributed to a match that was a disappointment, given the high stakes and the potential of both teams.

Worse still, his decision to caution Michael Essien for a challenge on Reyna after only five minutes, means Ghana's gifted midfielder will miss the 'Black Stars' mouth-watering meeting with Brazil and a personal confrontation with Ronaldinho.  

But if he and Ghana were below their best, the United States were just as bad on a day of inaccurate passing, broken moves and five yellow cards.

The world's richest nation was impoverished when it came to ideas.

Long balls prevailed and, even though Brian McBride headed against a post from an Eddie Lewis cross in the second half, they rarely threatened to produce the miracle they needed to survive.

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Timothy Collings
Source: REUTERS
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