Sunday, June 27, 2010


One Epic Too Many

Poor old Yanks. After a fantastic effort to claw their way back into the game against Slovenia, and a last-ditch winner in a vibrant game against Algeria, the Round of 16 encounter with Ghana was just one slugfest too many. Bob Bradley can be proud, however, of both his charges' and his own efforts; they have produced some of the most entertaining football of the World Cup thus far.

But first to:

Uruguay v. South Korea

An intriguing game which saw the team that played the more positive football go under. Conceding such a defensively awful early goal requires a resolute spirit for a team to get back into the game, and the Koreans certainly showed it; after an inconclusive period towards the middle of the first half, Huh Jung-Moo's men began to get on top; it was significant, shortly after the half-hour, to see the fullbacks Lee Young-Pyo and Cha Du-Ri (both veterans of the 2002 tournament, incidentally) taking up permanent residence in the Uruguayan half.

The increasing lassitude of Uruguay's efforts communicated itself to Luis Suarez, when he failed utterly to take proper advantage of Kim Jung-Woo's loose pass just after the break, in what could have been a crucial moment. Instead, Korea took the initiative again, and were ultimately rewarded with a deserved equaliser. Strange that the Asian sides, for so long considered weaklings at set-pieces, are scoring so many set-piece goals in South Africa!

Uruguay needed to reverse the momentum, and to their credit they did so. Interestingly, it was not Diego Forlan, their putative leader on the park, but Diego Perez who provided the extra thrust, and in the end a moment of individual class from Suarez was enough. Uruguay through to the quarter-finals then, for the first time in 40 years, but the manner of the victory was not completely convincing.

USA v. Ghana

Milovan Rajevac's Ghana side were unrecognisable from the shaky unit which scraped a lucky win against Serbia and played feebly to draw 1-1 with Australia despite their numerical advantage. Much was achieved by the replacement of the ineffectual Prince Tagoe by young Samuel Inkoom, one of the best players of the World Under-20 tournament in Egypt last year. Rajevac's re-organization of the side was excellent: Inkoom, nominally a defender, played on the right side of midfield but tracked back diligently, while Kwadwo Asamoah sat a little deeper than usual, ensuring that the Ghanaians outnumbered - and often outplayed - their opponents in midfield.

The USA, by contrast, looked tired after their exertions against Algeria, and there was little communication between the midfield and the frontline in the opening half. Ricardo Clark was a strange selection, and indeed he didn't last long, after giving the ball away for Ghana to score their traumatising early goal. With Maurice Edu restored to the midfield, the Americans gradually got a hold of the game, although Ghana still bossed the rest of the half, Andre Ayew in paticular causing Steve Cherundolo plenty of headaches on the left.

Another shrewd substitution from Bob Bradley at the break altered the complexion of the game. With Benny Feilhaber now reinforcing the midfield, allowing Bradley jnr. (among others) to break into attack more frequently, the USA started to assume control. Their equaliser was thoroughly merited, although Landon Donovan was a little lucky that his penalty crept in off the post.

But Ghana did not panic as they did against Australia, and although young Jonathan Mensah looked less than sure-footed in defence once again, his experienced namesake beside him thwarted dangerous-looking American offensives more than once. As normal time came to a close, it was obvious that the Americans were tiring.

Not least the central defensive pairing of Carlos Bocanegra and Jay DeMerit, who were simply beaten to a long ball by Asamoah Gyan early in extra time; a smart finish, and the game was won. Bob Bradley's troops simply didn't have the energy to mount a serious challenge after that, although some cynical time-wasting from the Ghanaians played its part as well.

Ghana deserve credit for picking themselves up from two winless games to halt the spirited Americans, but I favour Uruguay slightly against them. Without the suspended Ayew, they will be short of surprises in attack, and if Isaac Vorsah cannot reach full fitness before the match, the clever Uruguay frontline could make life difficult for Jonathan Mensah or Lee Addy.

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