Little room for error as Klinsmann targets ‘a final of sorts’
USA boss hoping to guide USA to a first win over Ghana
USA head coach Jurgen Klinsmann signs autographs for fans: Ghana have been the USA’s nemesis in the last two tournaments. Photo: Kevin C Cox/Getty
While Portugal taking on Germany is Group G’s undoubted marquee game, the USA’s match against Ghana is what the US coach, Jürgen Klinsmann, has called “a final of sorts”.
You can see his point. This is a game that both teams need to take something out of to have a realistic chance of progressing, given what follows for both.
If we are looking at World Cup history, Ghana have been the USA’s nemesis in the last two tournaments.
In 2006, Ghana came up against a USA team quietly confident of building on their quarter-final run in 2002. Instead the US were bundled out with defeat to the Ghanaians, and when given the chance of revenge in the second round four years later they were bundled out again, by an Asamoah Gyan goal in extra time.
And bundled is the operative word. Both the standout goals from those defeats saw US players muscled off the ball in the physical counter-attacking style Ghana have perfected.
It is a slightly different looking Ghana team than the 4-1-4-1 that lined up in support of the lone frontman Gyan in 2010.
He is still around but under the coach Kwesi Appiah they have tended to play a 4-4-2, with Majeed Waris playing alongside Gyan. But with Waris a doubt, it is possible that they will play a 4-2-3-1 with Kevin-Prince Boateng playing behind Gyan and tasked with not just supporting the attack, but shoring up the centre where Michael Essien and Sulley Muntari may have problems late on.
Gyan himself will be enough of a handful to give the likely US starting defensive pair of Geoff Cameron and Matt Besler a problem. With Fabian Johnson getting forward from full-back on the side Gyan likes to power down, these two will be crucial. That said, so will their occasionally erratic counterparts on the Ghana team.
With Jozy Altidore demonstrating he can still be a danger with his second goal in the friendly against Nigeria last week, Jonathan Mensah and John Boye will have to demonstrate a discipline that is not always a strong suit.
The game will likely be determined in midfield though. Against Nigeria, Klinsmann adjusted the midfield diamond he has been experimenting with in recent games to accommodate three players – Kyle Beckerman, Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley – who at various points in qualifying had rotated into the two deep-lying slots in a 4-2-3-1. With Bradley now pushed forward as the fulcrum of the team on both sides of the ball, and Jones given more of a roving brief, the balance of the USA side has shifted up the field a little. Klinsmann at least feels he has the moving parts in place now. Now it is down to how they move.