U.S. Loses To Ghana, 2-1, In Overtime
GUY RAZ, host:
In South Africa today, the U.S. run in the World Cup sadly came to an end. In their previous match, the U.S. squad pulled off a last-second goal against Algeria. But today, it was their opponent Ghana who defeated the U.S., 2-1.
NPR's Mike Pesca joins me now from Rustenburg in South Africa.
Mike, it didn't turn out the way obviously we wanted it today. But it was a great match. I mean, both these teams played very, very well, right?
MIKE PESCA: Yeah. The U.S. came up against a very skilled opponent. And this Ghanaian team, they were the only African team to made it to the knockout round. Before the tournament started, they were considered a very strong side. And there usually is a home continent advantage in the World Cup, but what happened was their most important player, Michael Essien, was injured.
And the Ghanaians, even though they made it through group play, they actually didn't score a goal during regular play. Both of their goals happened on penalty kicks. So it was quite a shock to the United States and maybe the soccer-watching world when they came out. And within just a few minutes of the opening kick, a guy by the name of King Prince Boateng...
PESCA: ...became a royal pain to the U.S. He beat U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard cleanly. And from there, the United States had to play catch-up.
RAZ: Yeah. But, Mike, I mean, looking at the American team, I mean, once again it was Landon Donovan who played just brilliantly.
PESCA: Yeah, I've become a big Landon Donovan admirer during this tournament. He scored the United States' only goal. The circumstances were that Clint Dempsey was pulled down in the Ghanaian box and a penalty kick was awarded. Unlike at basketball where the guy who is fouled has to take the shot, the coach can designate anyone to take the shot, so they let Landon Donovan take it. Penalty shots are about an 85 to 90 percent proposition in soccer. Donovan drilled it home.
In doing so, he became the all-time leading scorer in gold and also he tied the score, and that put it into the overtime period, which was to last a half hour. And if it still ended in a tie, it was going to be penalty kicks, but the Ghanaians scored. They scored pretty early. And from there, it was just two hours of soccer but the United States could not get the equalizer.
RAZ: Now, Mike, I'm hearing a lot of vuvuzelas behind you and I hear them behind you almost every time you're on the air. Ghana obviously the only African team left. Have South Africans there basically adopted them as their team now?
PESCA: You know, the United States sent almost 10,000 people to the World Cup. They traveled well, they supported their team well. A hair short of 40,000 people were in the stadium today and it really - right now, there are about 20,000 disappointed Americans and 20,000 braying Ghanaians leaving. It was an evenly matched side.
But you're right, most South Africans do support the African team. And there's this real conception of this World Cup as an African World Cup, one of the songs that everyone sing has the lyric "do it for Africa." And everyone screams that part. So, yes, the whole continent is behind the black stars of Ghana.
RAZ: Mike, obviously, it's been an amazing run for the U.S. team. What's the takeaway here? I mean, what did the U.S. team prove?
PESCA: Yeah, I think going into the tournament, the expectation or the break-even point would be to get exactly where the U.S. got, which is to make the knockout round. That doesn't say that exiting early is a disappointment because the ride along the way was so exciting. They certainly won over many fans in the United States.
And before we dismiss the idea of barely meeting expectations, why don't you ask the French and the Italians...
SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER
PESCA: ...if they would have liked to have just met expectations. So the United States is a tough team. And I was very impressed with Ghana. They're very skilled, and now that they're scoring, they really could make the semi-finals, I think. Some experts disagree and pick Uruguay.
RAZ: All right. Well, you're the only expert that counts. That's NPR's Mike Pesca in Rustenburg, South Africa.
Mike, thanks so much.
PESCA: You're welcome.
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