NATAL, BRAZIL – The U.S. defeated Ghana 2-1 in their Group G match as John Brooks responded with the decisive goal after Andre Ayew had tied the game late in the second half on Monday.
Clint Dempsey scored 32 seconds into the contest to put the U.S. in front, where it remained until Ayew scored in the 82nd minute. Four minutes later, the U.S. got a corner kick and Brooks headed in a goal, his first for the national team, to put the Americans back on top.
At the final whistle, coach Jurgen Klinsmann, the German hired to transform the U.S. from mere World Cup participant into a potential power, threw his arms to the sky and roared.
“This was exactly the start we wanted, we had to work hard for it and it’s a great feeling to get the first three points,” Klinsmann told reporters. “I was still convinced that we would win this game even after Ghana’s equalizer.”
Just after the kickoff, Dempsey weaved through several defenders to place the ball in the net with his left foot, giving the Americans a lead before many of the crowd in the stadium in Natal had sat down. With the goal, Dempsey became the first American to score in three different World Cups.
Dempsey later needed treatment for a bloody nose after getting kicked while vying for a ball in the air. The U.S. had already lost Jozy Altidore after the forward grabbed his leg while sprinting for a ball in the 20th minute. He was replaced by Aron Johannsson.
“I think my nose is broken,” Dempsey said. “I didn’t consider coming off, I just wanted to go on for as long as I could, but I had trouble breathing. I was coughing up blood a little bit from the back of my throat, but I felt fine and that I could keep going.”
Ghana pushed to get even, physically challenging the Americans and gaining about 60 percent of possession just before halftime. Those attacks fizzled out.
In the second half, Ghana started to create more chances, but Christian Atsu shot wide and Asamoah Gyan shot over the cross bar. Frustrations increased as Kevin-Prince Boateng shot into the stands from 40 meters away.
The U.S. defenders started playing closer to their own goal and Ghana’s attackers took advantage. Eventually, the pressure paid off with Ayew’s goal.
“It was a very tough game, and when you play at this high level any little mistake can cost you dearly,” Ghana coach, James Kwesi Appiah said. “We had a lot of the ball and created a lot of chances, but we didn’t make the most of our chances.”
The Americans were congratulated in their locker room after the match by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, who attended the contest, U.S Soccer said in a Twitter message.
“This win means nothing unless we can build on it,” Dempsey said in a news conference. “We have to do a better job keeping the ball and being more confident with the ball.”
“The U.S. team always has great spirit,” Klinsmann said. “I said it to the bench minutes before we’re going to get some chances still. So we are still in the game after the equalizer, we just need to kind of push and push and grind it out. That’s what they did. Here comes a set piece we trained over and over and over that stuff. And (Brooks) puts it in, so well deserved.”
Both U.S. goals were surprising. Dempsey’s showed the kind of technical flair seldom seen from a squad that typically scores through set pieces.
Brooks’ game winner rescued the Americans just when the U.S. likely would have been happy to escape with at least a draw.
DaMarcus Beasley, who became the first American to play in four World Cups, started the buildup to Dempsey’s goal with a pass to Jermaine Jones, who fed it to Dempsey inside the penalty area.
The Black Stars regrouped at halftime, and the U.S. looked punchless on the attack. Ghana enjoyed 59 percent of the possession in the game.
Ghana applied relentless pressure on U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard and finally drew even when captain Asamoah Gyan flicked a backheel pass to Ayew, who used the outside of his left foot for a powerful shot.
Ghana was still pressing when Brooks scored. The 21-year-old who plays for Hertha Berlin in the Bundesliga, appeared shocked, raising his hands to his head before falling to the ground to be mobbed by his teammates.
“It’s a special moment for the boy, he did well,” Klinsmann said.
“What I can say is it was a very tough game,” Appiah said. “Playing at this level, any little mistake can cost you dearly. We didn’t deserve to get the first goal against us.”
Under the slogan of “One Nation. One Team,” tens of thousands of U.S. fans descended on this coastal city.