Ghana has defeated the U.S. soccer team, 2-1, to advance to the second round of the World Cup in Germany. VOA Sports Editor Parke Brewer reports the game in Nuremberg was not without controversy.
The stakes were high for the final Group E matches in the World Cup's first round. All four teams, Italy, the Czech Republic, Ghana and the United States were still alive to qualify for the two berths in the second round.
The U.S. team needed the Italians to beat the Czechs, and they did, 2-0, and the Americans needed to beat Ghana. But it was Ghana that came away with a 2-1 victory and a spot in the round of 16 in its first ever World Cup appearance.
Ghana broke on top in the 22nd minute after Haminu Draman stole the ball from U.S. team captain Claudio Reyna as their left knees collided, and Reyna went down to the ground near the left sideline. Draman dribbled in alone and slammed the ball inside the far post for a 1-0 lead.
The USA got an equalizing goal in the 43rd minute from Clint Dempsey and seemingly was headed into half-time with good momentum. But two minutes into injury, or stoppage, time - that is added at the discretion of the referee - American defender Oguchi Onyewu was whistled for a questionable foul in the box as he went up to head a ball alongside Razak Pimpong, and the Ghanaian fell to the ground. Stephen Appiah converted the penalty kick, giving Ghana a 2-1 lead that it would never relinquish.
U.S. coach Bruce Arena told reporters afterward the penalty was a game-changing call that he felt was not justified.
"I think we'd all agree it wasn't a good call," he said. "To have that call in the 47th minute after our team works hard to get back in the game is difficult. I feel sorry for our team. We played a very good game. Certainly we're at fault in the second half for not doing better with some of our attacking play to get that second goal. But having said that, to be positioned to have to chase the game [being down a goal] on that call, was kind of remarkable in a game of this level. So that's disappointing."
Coach Arena added that he believes too many yellow cards for fouls have been handed out at this World Cup and that FIFA, football's world governing body, should reconsider how freely the referees are showing them. He cited Ghana's star player, Michael Essien, who received his second yellow card of the first round and will miss Ghana's second round match. Arena says the fans want to see the star players play, not sit on the bench with suspensions.
"I think all coaches and players would say this in the tournament. The insistence on yellow cards is crazy. It's taking good players out of this tournament," he said. "Essien out of the next game is unfair. His tackle was actually good. This mandate to have to show yellow cards has gone overboard. And I feel bad for Essien. They need him in the next game. He's a great player. But, you know, that was certainly a mandate, and I think it's wrong."
As for Ghana's Serbian coach, Ratomir Dujkovic, he refused to comment on the controversial foul call resulting in the successful penalty kick that gave his team its margin of victory. He just wanted to celebrate the achievement of his team.
"This is a historic moment for all Ghanaians, for this group of players, for myself, because we are for the first time in the World Cup and we became in the [top] 16 in the world," he said.
Dukovic did feel a sense of relief at having beaten the United States to reach the single elimination, or knockout, phase of this World Cup.
"We didn't' control the match," he said. "They are very strong. They are very good, very skillful. Unfortunately they have to go home, but they also deserve to be in the [round of] 16."
Italy finished first in Group E with seven points on two wins a draw, and Ghana goes through as the second place team with six points from two wins. The 2006 World Cup has ended for the Czech Republic, which had three points, and the United States, which had one point.