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Jun 15, 2014

Ghana vs U.S.: 50-50 Challenge

GhanaGhana
United StatesUnited States
1
2
ESPN, ESPN3 FT
Match 14
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Jeremy Schaap reports as the United States arrive in Natal, one day ahead of their opponents Ghana.

Our expert bloggers will give their thoughts ahead of each game; as Ghana take on the United States in Group G, Fiifi Anaman (Ghana) and Jason Davis (United States) are your guides.

What's at stake?

Fiifi Anaman: A lot. For the USA, it means revenge after losing two consecutive times to Ghana in the past two World Cups. For the Black Stars, it's the most realistic chance of picking up all three points to boost their hopes of qualifying from what is a very tight group. The USA's obsession with this game has been well publicised, but Ghana seem the more relaxed side. A win for either team in what will be a high-tension encounter will prove crucial in a group in which a lot will matter.

Jason Davis: Redemption, revenge and -- potentially -- advancement. In a World Cup group fraught with intriguing storylines based on past tournament meetings, no game is more emotional for the USA and its fans than the opener against Ghana. Not only does the match represent -- at least on paper -- the best chance for the Americans to get three points in a difficult group, but it also brings with it the added motivation of beating the side that knocked them out of the World Cup in the two previous editions.

Ghana must feel like they have the USA's number; the Americans have more than one reason to prove them wrong.

X factor

FA: Mohammed Rabiu. The 24-year-old is Ghana's unsung hero -- a tireless, hard worker who works quietly but effectively sitting in front of the defence. He will be key in breaking up the USA's attacks, protecting Ghana's relatively unstable and inexperienced back four and starting moves forward. Without him, Ghana are very vulnerable.

JD: Clint Dempsey. Jozy Altidore regained his scoring touch in the final warm-up match against Nigeria, but it's more likely to be the Seattle Sounders star who creates moments that can put the Americans over the top against Ghana. Dempsey is the creative spark of the team, a player capable of magic who must be accounted for by opposing defenders at all times. Because of that, he'll help create space for his teammates, which makes his ability to be the X factor multifaceted.

Whatever formation Jurgen Klinsmann chooses to use against Ghana, Dempsey's role will be to float underneath Altidore and pick the ball up in dangerous areas on the edge of the box as a precursor to creating in his typical swashbuckling style.

Ghana's Asamoah Gyan and the USA's Clint Dempsey should provide an entertaining duel between the two countries' best attackers.

Fear factor

FA: Michael Bradley. He has blossomed into such a fine playmaker and become very stylish and effective in dictating play, as well as splitting defences open with some killer passes. He's the USA's key man, and Ghana should aim to limit him. If Ghana can neutralise him, the Americans will lose a lot of their threat and creative power.

JD: Asamoah Gyan. In 2010, it was the Ghanaian striker who sunk America's hopes in the round of 16 via an extra-time goal from a simple ball over the top and a defensive failure by the USA's center backs. Gyan was a constant threat to the Americans and stretched their shape with his first touch, devastating foot speed and quality shot. Kevin-Prince Boateng is a handful and the Ayew brothers are a real concern, but no player has the mental edge over the Americans like Gyan. Keeping the Al Ain striker quiet will be of utmost importance for the USA defenders.

Key battle

FA: The battle between the (possible) American central defensive duo of Matt Besler and Geoff Cameron and Ghana's captain and key player, Asamoah Gyan, should be very interesting. Gyan is in the form of his life for both club and country, having scored more than 40 goals for his club and 12 times in 19 games for Ghana since the start of 2013. He also scored the goal that knocked the USA out of the World Cup in South Africa four years ago. It should be interesting to see how the Americans handle him because for many, he's a sure bet to score.

JD: Michael Bradley vs. Michael Essien. Bradley's move forward in the USA setup means he'll often be in Essien's turf while trying to help the American attack. Klinsmann's major problems are mostly at the back and how his side will hold up against Ghana's counterattack, but if the USA intends to advance, they'll have to score. The more time on the ball Bradley has to find a teammate in space or play a deft chip over Ghana's back line, the more likely they are to score. Bradley is also the first line of defence in the midfield and will need to help slow down Ghana's transition into attack.

Prediction

FA: Ghana 2-0 USA. Ghana knows how to get business done when the stakes are high and is now a team that scores goals, too, so it should be a comfortable victory. Expect the USA to put up a solid fight by controlling the game for most parts, though.

JD: USA 2-1 Ghana. For no other reason than it seems the Americans are due to beat the Black Stars, the pick is a reverse of the score line from the two nations' 2010 knockout-round battle. The first goal is crucial; falling behind won't help Klinsmann's side, who need to build confidence if they're going to win the game and make it out of the group.

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