Big expectations as U.S. meets Ghana in World Cup with a chance to advance to quarterfinals
RUSTENBURG, South Africa — For other countries, a second-round World Cup match is a big step. For the United States, Saturday's game against Ghana is so much more.
The television audience back home could top the U.S. national team record of 13.7 million, set during the 1994 World Cup loss to Brazil.
With a victory, the Americans would advance to a quarterfinal matchup versus Uruguay or South Korea on July 2 and match the farthest the U.S. team has advanced since the first World Cup in 1930. Confidence is soaring.
"If we continue to build on the successes so far, we can go to the end," coach Bob Bradley said Friday.
The U.S. team made the 2-hour trip Friday northwest from Irene and checked into the Bakubung Bush Lodge, where the bus was blocked by an elephant ahead of the opener against England on June 12. Players have been stoked since Landon Donovan's injury-time goal beat Algeria on Wednesday and lifted them into the knockout phase.
"The way we've been playing, feeling like we've gone undefeated and we've gotten stronger, I think that gives us hope," goalkeeper Tim Howard said.
American sports fans have been focusing on soccer at an unprecedented level. Former President Clinton attended Wednesday's game in Pretoria and chugged a postgame beer with captain Carlos Bocanegra. New Orleans Saints running back Reggie Bush joined the party. Clinton changed his schedule to stick around for the Ghana game.
"People were coming out of the woodworks to celebrate," Bocanegra said.
The Columbus Crew, FC Dallas, New England Revolution and New York Red Bulls of Major League Soccer are among those hosting viewing parties. The Kansas City Royals are setting up televisions around Kauffman Stadium so fans can watch while attending the baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals.
"You want to have a team that the people who care about ... and follow that team and root for that team and can feel part of," coach Bob Bradley said Friday. "A team that people believe in and a team that people are proud of. And so, that's part of our responsibility, and we're excited in the moment that there's that kind of feeling."
Saturday's game, nationally televised by ABC starting at 2:30 p.m. EDT, will be the third for the Americans at Royal Bafokeng Stadium. They had a 3-0 win over Egypt in last year's Confederations Cup and the 1-1 draw with the English in this tournament.
The U.S. is coming off a 2-2 tie against Slovenia, when the Americans rallied from a two-goal deficit and saw an 85th-minute goal controversially disallowed, and the thrilling 1-0 victory over the Algerians.
It would appear the U.S. has a favorable path to the semifinals, a round it reached for the only time 80 years ago. The Americans are ranked 14th, well ahead of Ghana (32nd) and South Korea (47th) and slightly in front of Uruguay (18th).
While the U.S. finished atop its first-round group for the first time since 1930, it hasn't won consecutive World Cup games in 80 years. And in Ghana, it plays the only one of six African teams to have survived past the group phase. All African fans figure to be supporting the Black Stars.
"Ghana is the African hope now," defender Samuel Inkoom said. "We aren't going to disappoint them."
Four years ago, the Americans played Ghana in their final first-round game and needed a victory to advance. Ghana went ahead early only for Clint Dempsey to tie it. But the Black Stars won the game on Stephen Appiah's penalty kick after a foul called by German referee Markus Merk against Oguchi Onyewu.
"An injustice," Onyewu said. "I still to this day don't know where the foul came from."
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