Americans Bounced from Cup by Upstart Ghana

The U.S. soccer team scores its first goal of the 2006 World Cup in a losing effort against Ghana, missing a chance to advance to the tournament's second round. Italy's victory over the Czech Republic, 2-0, meant that the U.S.-Ghana winner was assured a spot in the Round of 16.

But the surprising West African team was able to score twice in the first half, and the Americans didn't capitalize on several goal opportunities. Michele Norris talks with NPR's Rob Gifford, who is in Germany.

Ghana Bests U.S. to Advance at World Cup

NUREMBERG, Germany (AP) — There was no glory for the United States at this year's World Cup, only frustration and failure.

The Americans were eliminated in the first round, losing to Ghana 2-1 Thursday in a game they had to win to advance to the tournament's knockout phase.

With thousands of red, white and blue-clad fans cheering them on in Franken-Stadion, the Americans fell flat against a Black Stars team that was stronger and faster. Surprising Ghana advanced along with Italy from Group E.

It was a bitter ending for the United States, which carried high hopes — and a No. 5 world ranking from FIFA — onto soccer's biggest stage. Four years ago, the Americans made the quarterfinals of the World Cup.

Haminu Draman put the Africans ahead in the 22nd minute, breaking in alone on goalkeeper Kasey Keller after colliding with Claudio Reyna, who crumpled to the ground in pain.

The United States, which has never won a World Cup game in which it trailed, tied it when Clint Dempsey scored in the 43rd minute with a smashing 10-yard shot off a perfect feed from DaMarcus Beasley. But Ghana captain Stephen Appiah converted a penalty kick in the second minute of first-half injury time after American defender Oguchi Onyewu was called for a foul in the penalty area.

"We worked real hard to get back in the game," coach Bruce Arena said. "I am disappointed in the judgment of the referee in the penalty call. We would have liked to come out at halftime even, with a chance to win the game. That was a big call.

"Having said that, we could have been better in the second half with our own opportunities."

The Black Stars outfouled the Americans 32-16.

Eddie Johnson entered in the 61st minute as the United States pressed, and Brian McBride nearly tied it again in the 66th, but his diving header inside the 6-yard box clanked off the near post. A minute later, Onyewu sent a header off Landon Donovan's corner kick just over the crossbar.

In order to advance, the Americans needed a victory and some help. They got the needed assistance when Italy defeated the Czech Republic 2-0 in a game played simultaneous in Hamburg. But the United States (0-2-1) didn't come through and finished the tournament with one point - its first in a World Cup played in Europe, but not enough to escape the basement in Group E.

Italy (2-0-1) won the group with seven points and Ghana (2-1), making its first World Cup appearance, advanced with six points.

"This is a historic moment for us," Ghana coach Ratomir Dujkovic said. "We are very happy. It was a very nervous match because of the importance to both teams. But we have done it, we are satisfied."

Four years ago, the Americans were the satisfied ones with their best showing since 1930. But this time, in what probably marked the final World Cup appearances of Reyna, McBride and perhaps Keller, they reverted to their form of 1998 in France, when they finished last overall.

U.S. fans outnumbered the Ghanaians dressed in red, yellow and green, both in the cobblestone streets of Nuremberg's old town before the game and in the historic ballpark where Hitler Youth marched seven decades ago.

With Eddie Pope and Pablo Mastroeni suspended, the Americans used Jimmy Conrad to replace Pope at central defender and Reyna shifted back to Mastroeni's defensive midfield role. Beasley joined Donovan in the center of the midfield and Eddie Lewis, who started the opener at left back, took over in left midfield — his more familiar position — from Bobby Convey.

Draman scored after Dempsey played a back pass to Reyna, and the U.S. captain collided with the Ghanaian left knee to left knee. As Reyna fell, Draman took possession and rushed in one-on-one against Keller, putting the ball onto his right foot and sending it into the corner of the net beyond the diving goalkeeper from 10 yards.

Reyna was taken off the field on a stretcher, grimacing, but returned in the 26th minute, just about the time Italy went ahead of the Czechs. Still looking pained, he was replaced by Ben Olsen in the 40th minute and went to the bench, where the knee was wrapped.

Donovan, who failed to score after getting two World Cup goals as a 20 year old in 2002, had a great chance to tie it in the 35th. He had an open shot after Brian McBride dropped a header for him, but got under the ball and his volley attempt went way high — with U.S. coach Bruce Arena looking disgusted in front of the bench.

Dempsey then tied it.

Beasley, along the left flank just past midfield, battled Derek Boateng and John Pantsil and stole the ball. After a short run, Beasley sent a pinpoint left-footed cross in front of the goal. Racing ahead of Habib Mohamed, Dempsey one-timed the ball with his right foot from about 12 yards.

It was the first goal by a U.S. player in the World Cup in 338 minutes. Dempsey did his rap dance as Americans celebrated.

But moments later, the Americans fell behind again. For good.

Onyewu pushed down Razak Pimpong in the penalty area battling for a header, and Germany's Markus Merk — one of the world's top-rated officials — immediately pointed to the penalty spot as Arena buried his face in his hands. Keller dived left, but Appiah put the ball high to the goalkeeper's right.

Arena kept on talking in the referee's direction until an assistant coach pulled him away.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

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