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U.S. keeps drive alive, faces Ghana

6/26/2010

The United States has some veteran experience and a collective group. Ghana has talented youth, some speed up front and a home-field-like advantage being the only African nation remaining in the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

However you slice and dice the elements, the possibilities are endless in the knockout round.

The U.S. faces Ghana on Saturday in the Round of 16, and U.S. head coach Bob Bradley, his staff and players think they have a good grasp of who they are facing this weekend.

"We all know the types of players that Ghana has produced, the great youth teams they've had and the fact that they've been able to, I think, do a very good job of turning very good teams at the U-17 and U-20 level into very good teams at the full national team level," Bradley said. "We know some of their guys pretty well, we've watched them a lot and we expect a really good game."

The U.S. won Group C to get to this stage, but the journey was far from picture-perfect. The Americans had a pair of draws against England and Slovenia, then capped off group play with a second-half stoppage-time goal from Landon Donovan to edge Algeria.

Ghana managed a runner-up finish in Group D behind Germany. The Black Stars topped Serbia, had a 1-1 draw against Australia, then fell to Germany, 1-0.

If you want to nitpick Ghana's group play, the Black Stars scored two goals in the three games, and neither was in the run of play.

"There's cause for a little concern," Ghana native and Chicago Fire midfielder Patrick Nyarko said earlier this week at Fire training. "I think we've created very good chances, and hopefully we can finish and our defense can hold up. The U.S. attack is very strong and very dangerous right now. Hopefully we can come out Saturday and stop them."

From an expectations standpoint, suffice it to say that the Americans have met them. Most people were hoping they would advance through the group stage and they did so at the very last minute against Algeria.

After the Americans wiped their brow and avoided a devastating early exit, a letdown in the knockout stage would be a huge disappointment from the U.S. camp. Which is why this U.S.-Ghana match carries far more importance. There also is a redemption factor heading into Saturday's match because the Americans fell to Ghana, 2-1, in the 2006 World Cup and were eliminated.

"I think there are six players on each team that were in that match, so there's some element of [avenging that loss]," Bradley said. "But nonetheless, four years later things change. In the moment and speaking for ourselves, the excitement to be at this point and the understanding that you get this opportunity to give what you have and try to continue to move along. You take nothing for granted, and get excited for putting it on the line again."

From a tactical standpoint, it will be interesting to see what Bradley decides to do with the defensive line on Saturday. Bradley decided to sit center back Oguchi Onyewu against Algeria, while teaming Carlos Bocanegra and Jay DeMerit as the center combo.

However Bradley puts together the pieces, the Americans are being watched closely, and they should be. They are the highest-ranked team in their quadrant at No. 14 in the FIFA Rankings. The U.S. is followed by Uruguay (16), Ghana (32) and South Korea (47).