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U.S. men

U.S. faces difficult World Cup opener against deep, talented Ghana.

By Robert Wagman

(Saturday, June 14, 2014) -- Ghana will provide the United States men with a major test in the World Cup Group G opener Monday for both teams in Estádio das Dunas in Natal, Brazil. The 6 p.m. (ET) game will be televised by ESPN and Spanish-language Univision.

This is a match the U.S. must win if it has hope of getting out what is considered the toughest of eight groups with it also including Germany and Portugal.

The Black Stars’ strength is clearly up top with a whole group of players whom can score goals in bunches. This firepower was on display when Ghana defeated Brazil-bound South Korea 4-0 Monday in Miami, Fla. Previously, that offense was largely absent, but strong goalkeeping and a stout defense held the Netherlands to a single goal in a 1-0 loss in Rotterdam.

Ghana coach Kwesi Appiah has numerous players who can dent the net. Against South Korea, it was Jordan Ayew, a 22-year-old striker from France’s Olympique Marseille who had a hat-trick. Ayew was actually an injury replacement for Spartak Moscow forward Abdul Majeed Waris, who limped off in the fifth minute.

Ghana captain Asamoah Gyan, a striker for Al Ain of the United Arab Emirates, had the fourth goal. Kevin-Prince Boateng of Germany’s Schalke 04 has been playing in midfield instead of on top because he does not have the pace of Ayew or Waris.

Ghana has a midfield that is the envy of a great many of the teams in Brazil. It features the AC Milan pair of superstars Michael Essien and Sulley Muntari, along with Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu (Udinese, Italy), Afriyie Acquah (Parma, Italy), Christian Atsu (Vitesse, Netherlands), Albert Adomah (Middlesbrough, England) and Andre Ayew (Marseille, France). They were so effective against South Korea, the Koreans had few quality chances.

Essien has been a thorn in the Americans’ side in the past two Cups when the Black Stars eliminated the U.S. 2-1 in extra time in the Round of 16 in 2010 in South Africa, In 2006, a 2-1 defeat by Ghana in the third group match sent to Americans home with just one point.

Historically Ghana, like many other African countries, is said to have problems in the back. On paper, this team appears weak in goal, while its back-line is seen to be untested, and prone to confusion and poor marking.

If that is true, the Black Stars have sure not shown it in the team’s two pre-Cup matches. Goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey (Strømsgodset, Norway) was terrific in net, holding the Netherlands to a single goal. Then, Fatau Dauda (Orlando Pirates, South Africa) kept a clean sheet against the Koreans.

In both matches, the defense was strong with the center manned by the France-based pair of John Boye (Rennes) and Jonathan Mensah (Evian). Kwadwo Asamoah of Italy’s Juventus was moved from the deep midfield to left back, while Daniel Opare (Porto) manned the right side.

If Appiah was worried that he might expose too much in Miami to a stadium audience that included U.S. coach Jürgen Klinsmann, his rout of South Korean was accomplished while resting Essien, Opare, Afriyie, Acquah and Kwarasey.

“It was a good friendly match. It was important we put out a good team,” Appiah said. “Everyone who paid to come in here got his money's worth.

“It’s fine we won, but we still have some work to do.”

This should cause Klinsmann and U.S. fans some anxious moments.

Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.

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