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US face Ghana in Natal opener Must win for both sides

NATAL, Brazil, June 15, (Agencies): Notions of righting wrongs and exacting revenge will add an extra pinch of spice when Ghana take on the United States on Monday in a World Cup Group G match that looks like a must win for both teams. With encounters against Germany and Portugal to come for both teams in arguably the toughest first round group, anything less than the full three points at the Dunas arena could be fatal to their hopes of a spot in the last 16. Ghana lit up the last World Cup in South Africa when they came within one missed penalty of becoming the first African team to reach the last four after Luis Suarez’s infamous handball in the quarter-final against Uruguay.

With big name players like Michael Essien, Kevin-Prince Boateng and Asamoah Gyan back on board, Ghana have arrived in Brazil confident they can right what they see as the injustice of their exit on their home continent. The United States’s last two World Cup campaigns have both been ended by the Black Stars so Juergen Klinsmann’s team will also feel they have a record to set straight. At their slick best, as they were in South Africa and when they thrashed South Korea 4-0 in Miami in their final warm-up last week, Ghana are an intimidating prospect for any side.

Defeats to Zambia and Burkina Faso in the semi-finals of the last two African Cup of Nations, however, are perhaps indicative of a team that lets the pressure of the occasion get to them. Having predicted his team could reach the last four in Brazil after an impressive qualifying campaign, coach Kwesi Appiah has been trying to pour a little cold water on expectations back home. “The United States are a very, very good team,” Appiah told the Ghana FA website. Klinsmann, a World Cup winner as a player in 1990, has similarly tried to add a dose of realism to American ideas of what his team, ranked 13th in the world by FIFA, can do in Brazil.

The German equally has no time for pessimism, however, and after wins over Azerbaijan, Turkey and Nigeria in warm-ups his team will not lack in confidence. “We don’t look at ourselves as underdogs,” he said. “We are not. We are going to take the game to Ghana and they will take it to us and it will be an exciting game and then we go from there.” The match is likely to be won and lost in the heart of midfield where Essien and Sulley Muntari will take on Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones and no quarter should be expected on either side. Exactly how Klinsmann’s team will line-up is matter of some conjecture given the amount of tinkering he has done with both manpower and formation in the last year.

Ghana’s defence has always been an area of weakness but concerns over the fitness of Gyan’s strike partner Abdul Majeed Waris have eased after he returned to training in Brazil on Friday having injured his thigh in the South Korea match. In related story, Ghana will kick off their World Cup campaign in Natal tipped to beat the United States on Monday, but their bid for a coveted semi-final place could prove a much harder task. Veteran midfielder Kyle Beckerman watched Ghana in a recent 4-0 friendly win over South Korea, in which Ayew struck a hat-trick and where Majeed Waris picked up his knock, and was impressed: “They looked really good. They’re strong, fast...technically good.

“So it’s going to take unbelievable effort from us and it’s going to take our best, but we’re looking forward to that.” Appiah, who is known by his players as the ‘Silent Killer’ for his taciturn but no-nonsense manner, has a lot to live up to having injected fresh blood into a squad which includes 16 World Cup newcomers. But former Nigeria and United States coach Bora Milutinovic has warned the Americans to underestimate Ghana at their peril. “They are a very good team, young, very good mentality,” Milutinovic said after watching Ghana trounce South Korea. “It will be a big challenge for all teams in this group. Everybody is very strong. It is like a small World Cup between four teams.”

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