The U.S. soccer team plays Ghana (Thursday 10am EDT) in a World Cup Group E match that is a must-win game for the Americans to have a chance of reaching the second round of the month-long tournament in Germany.
Even with a win in the final group match in Nuremberg, the U.S. team is not assured of a berth in the second round. The Americans must hope Italy beats the Czech Republic in the other group game that will be played at the same time in Hamburg. Then Italy and the United States would be the two teams to go through.
Italy leads the group with four points, the Czechs and Ghana have three and the United States has one. This is the only one of the eight groups at this World Cup where all four teams remain in contention to advance after two of the three first-round matches.
U.S. coach Bruce Arena said his team has to concentrate on its job at hand.
"We know that whatever the scenario is in the other game, we have to win, as a starting point," he said. "Our focus is on winning the game. We win the game and have four points, we have a chance to advance."
Ghana lost its opener to Italy, 2-0, but then beat the Czech Republic, 2-0, while the United States lost to the Czechs 3-0 and tied Italy 1-1. Coach Arena expects a good match against Ghana.
"They have a good team and obviously showed considerable improvement from game one to game two, as did the U.S. team," he said. "... They are a team that has great athleticism; one of the best players in the tournament in [Chelsea midfielder Michael] Essien. I think it will be a little bit wide open and hopefully we can deal with their team speed. That is probably my biggest concern."
Ghana's Serbian coach Ratomir Dujkovic says his players know how to respond to whatever style of play is used against them.
"All of our players play [professionally] in Europe for very important teams," he said. "They know all tactics in football, so they can adapt themselves easily to any tactics."
The U.S. soccer team has yet to score a goal at this World Cup. Their equalizer in the 1-1 draw against Italy came when an Italian player - while trying to clear a free kick by the U.S. team - knocked the ball into his own net.
Star midfielder Landon Donovan said the Americans know what they must do.
"The hardest thing to do in soccer is score goals," he said. "It is not lost on any of us that we have not scored a goal. And its likely that were going to need to score to win the game [being sarcastic]. But the problems arise when you do not create chances, and that is when you start to wonder. That is when it becomes an issue. We are getting the chances. [We have been] A little unlucky; a little lack of sharpness in front of the goal. That is the last thing I worry about. We know our chances will come."
The U.S. soccer team has never faced Ghana at the full senior level. There is a lot at stake for both teams with this first meeting at the World Cup.