Saturday, June 26, 2010 (All times Eastern)
United States (1-0-2) vs. Ghana (1-1-1), 2:30 p.m.
Rustenburg, South Africa (Sports Network) - Captain Carlos Bocanegra did not think any United States team had ever won its group at the World Cup, and when you have to look back 80 years to the inaugural tournament to prove him wrong, it is an understandable oversight by the 31-year-old.
The U.S. claimed Group C with its memorable win over Algeria on Wednesday, and opens knockout play Saturday against Ghana, the host continent's only survivor from group play.
Bocanegra was also wrong when he said the five points the U.S. accumulated was the most for an American team, as the 1930 squad beat Belgium and Paraguay for six points that year.
The U.S. exited the 1930 World Cup with a 6-1 loss to Argentina in its opening game in the knockout round, which started in the semifinals with just 13 teams competing.
The Americans are in much better position 80 years later, but Ghana presents a challenge in the round of 16 at Royal Bafokeng Stadium. And, if the U.S. hopes to return to the semifinals, which it hasn't done since 1930, it has as good a path as it could have hoped for.
Although the U.S. can't overlook Ghana, which eliminated the Americans in the group stage four years ago, with the winner of the Uruguay and South Korea match its potential opponent in the quarterfinals, it's hard not to get hopeful.
"We want to do something special here this whole time, and I think we're on our way to doing that," U.S. right back Steve Cherundolo said.
The U.S. was lucky in its opener in South Africa, when Clint Dempsey scored on a weak shot that trickled off England goalie Robert Green's hands and into the net in a 1-1 draw.
But the Americans erased a two-goal deficit to earn a 2-2 tie against Slovenia on goals from Landon Donovan and Michael Bradley, and appeared to score in the closing seconds to win the match but had the goal called back for a foul.
The U.S. waited until stoppage time, when Donovan scored in the 91st minute, in its group finale against Algeria to seal a berth in the knockout stage, but that type of dramatic ending could be just the spark the team needed.
"This is where the fun starts," Bocanegra said.
The Americans should take pride in being able to produce late goals. Also, the fact the U.S. posted its first shutout in the World Cup since a 2-0 victory in 2002 over Mexico in the round of 16, is good sign.
"We really have to concentrate on ourselves and continue to do the little things right in the next few days and more importantly in the round of 16," Cherundolo said.
The United States proved last summer in South Africa its not how well you play in the group stage. The Americans were lucky to advance in the Confederations Cup last year, but surprised Spain in the semifinals with a 2-0 win.
The U.S. is now in position to challenge for its first World Cup title, and it just needs four straight wins to accomplish the unthinkable. Based on its will to survive in the knockout stage, and relatively easy path, the U.S. needs to remain grounded against Ghana.
"We understand there's a lot of work to do but we're on the right path," U.S. striker Jozy Altidore said.
Ghana's most impressive performance of the group stage was its 1-0 loss in its last match to Germany. Ghana defeated Serbia 1-0 in its first match and tied Australia 1-1 in its second, but both of its scores were penalties by Asamoah Gyan.
Ghana showed much more life against Germany, but failed to score and finished second in the group.
Black Stars boss Milovan Rajevac admitted after the Germany defeat he was "not thinking about the USA yet, we want to celebrate today's achievement." Rajevac has to feel good about his club's chances, though, as all of South Africa will be in their corner.
Considering Ghana is without star midfielder Michael Essien because of injury, and fellow midfielder Sulley Muntari has played just 39 minutes, Rajevac's team should just improve with every match.
Ghana should also feel like a trip to the semifinals is within reach, so a win this weekend is even more important for both sides. The Black Stars won 2-1 in Germany four years ago, but this American team is a little more dynamic and is a much tougher challenge.
06/25 13:43:51 ET