The USA kick off their 2014 World Cup campaign with a tricky matchup in Natal against Ghana, who thrilled the world four years ago in South Africa.
The Ghanaians knocked the USA out in the round of 16 in 2010 before falling at the quarter-final stage in controversial circumstances to Uruguay, winning fans and plaudits in the process.
Jurgen Klinsmann’s side will be hoping that lightning doesn’t strike twice on Monday as their first World Cup without Landon Donovan since 1998 gets underway.
Venue: Arena das Dunas, Natal
Date: Monday 16 June
Time: 11 p.m. BST/6 p.m. ET
TV Info: BBC One/ESPN
Optimistic Air in America
Though the USA have reached the quarter-final stage of a World Cup just once since the inaugural tournament back in 1930, confidence is high in the American camp even without their former star man.
23 players on final U.S. World Cup roster have combined for 3 World Cup goals. Landon Donovan has 5 World Cup goals by himself.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 23, 2014
Donovan’s exclusion from the squad shook the very foundations of USMNT, but even he believes that Klinsmann’s men have a good chance in Brazil—per MLSSoccer.com:
As someone who has been in that [USMNT] locker room and has sat next to the players, we agree with the American Outlaws: We believe that we will win. I think that's the way Americans think and I think that's the sentiment. If we're really expecting to go out and beat Ghana, beat Portugal and beat Germany—in my opinion Germany is one of the best teams in the world. If you can beat Germany, why can't you beat anybody else? It doesn't mean it's going to happen, but I believe [the US can win the World Cup] and I think all of America believes it. We can do it.
To “do it,” USA need to get off to a flyer against Ghana at the Arena das Dunas in Group G, and their recent form will give them the confidence to do just that.
According to SoccerWay, USMNT come into Monday’s clash off the back of three wins on the spin—taking out Azerbaijan, Turkey and Nigeria in their warm-up games.
However, the record gets even better than that—the USA have lost just three of their last 24 internationals and come into the tournament as one of the strongest sides in terms of form.
Their 2-1 victory over Nigeria in Florida gave fans cause for optimism, with Jozy Altidore demonstrating his credentials up front and putting Donovan-gate momentarily on the back burner with a brace.
His goals and all-around performance may well have secured his place in Klinsmann’s starting 11 against Ghana, though he’ll have to be at his best to breach the stubborn Ghanaians.
James Kwesi Appiah’s side have a knack for keeping teams out and have kept seven clean sheets in their last 10 internationals according to SoccerWay.
While the USA will be more than aware of Ghana’s defensive capabilities, keeping tabs on their talented forwards will be job one.
In Asamoah Gyan, Ghana have a striker in form that has proved himself on the big stage before.
As BBC Sport revealed, the 28-year-old scored three goals in World Cup 2010, including the extra-time winner that ended USA’s dream in South Africa.
Known for their physicality, Ghana will be a huge test for USMNT, but if they can find their way to victory then their chances of knockout stage progression are still intact.
It’ll be a battle of the defences in Natal and with both sides needing to avoid defeat, it’ll likely be an incredibly tight affair.
Prediction: Ghana 1-1 USA