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PRETORIA, South Africa -- So what do you do for a World Cup encore if you're the United States?
Equaling the deepest tournament run ever in the modern era while paying back a Ghana side that knocked the Americans out in 2006? That wouldn't be a bad place to start.
The U.S. will face the Black Stars in a round of 16 match Saturday in Rustenburg. Emerging victorious will require the Americans to set aside Wednesday's epic victory over Algeria. Given the immense effort put forth both physically and mentally, that will take some doing. The key is to resist the urge to become satisfied with what has been accomplished so far.
"I will enjoy this more than I enjoy most goals," Landon Donovan said of his game winner against the Desert Foxes. "But I've already got my head wrapped around Saturday and the reality of what that is and the opportunity that [it] presents."
It's likely that a quick viewing of Ghana's World Cup performances will also jolt the team back to reality. The Black Stars have a physically powerful team that has been very tough to break down. What has made them unique among African sides is their ability to grind out results, a trait made even more impressive given that their Group D opponents included Germany and Serbia.
Ghana's success is based on a defense that has conceded just two goals in the tournament, with central defender John Mensah proving to be the brains that has kept the back line together. His play has been augmented by holding midfielders Kevin-Prince Boateng and Anthony Annan, who have formed an effective bulwark in front of the back four. Boateng has provided the brawn, which has eased the sting of losing star midfielder Michael Essien to injury just before the tournament. Annan is the deep lying distributor tasked with linking defense to attack.
Yet as imposing as the Black Stars have been defensively, they've struggled mightily on offense, and it was nearly their undoing in the first round. While exhibiting some impressive approach work from the likes of Andre Ayew and Prince Tagoe, Ghana hasn't exhibited much composure in front of goal. Attacking midfielder Kwadwo Asamoah has yet to hit top gear, and striker Asamoah Gyan has been unable to take advantage of the service provided by Ayew and Tagoe.
The fact that both of Ghana's goals in the group stage came via the penalty spot speaks to the team's inability to convert on a consistent basis. The first one came from an inexplicable handball when Serbia's Zdravko Kuzmanovic decided to play catch in the penalty box.
U.S. defender Carlos Bocanegra plays with Gyan on French side Rennes and remains wary of his club teammate and the entire Ghana team. "You never count a team out, even when they're not able to score goals," Bocanegra said. "[Gyan] is an athletic player. He's got a great leap, and he's really good in the air. He's powerful and fast; he spearheads their attack for them."
It's possible that the crowd support the Black Stars can expect to receive in Rustenburg will be the antidote to their goal-scoring woes. Barring a miracle from the Ivory Coast on Friday, the Black Stars will be the only African country to reach the second round, and they should have the entire continent behind them on Saturday.
Of greater concern for the U.S. will be finding ways to impose its will on Ghana. This will likely come down to the battle in midfield, where Michael Bradley and Maurice Edu will look to gain the upper hand on Boateng and Annan. Bradley has enjoyed a breakout tournament. His ability to join the attack while also feeding the likes of Clint Dempsey and Donovan will play a significant role Saturday.
Another key matchup will be Jozy Altidore against Ghana's other center back, Jonathan Mensah. The 19-year-old Ghanaian oozes talent but has been mistake-prone. The way Altidore has been using his power and strength to run at defenders could cause the Black Stars all sorts of problems.
While Altidore has always been aggressive, manager Bob Bradley has encouraged him to run at defenders more often.
"[Bradley] showed me tape of the good things that I did and one of them was running at people, creating chances for others," Altidore said. "He said I didn't get on the half-turn enough and get my head up and look for passes and beat guys. He told me to do that more and be a little more of a playmaker."
That plan worked to perfection against Algeria in the final moments, as Altidore delivered the pass to Clint Dempsey that eventually led to Donovan's goal. Repeating that approach will help the U.S. defeat Ghana and scale the heights of its quarterfinal run in 2002.
Not a bad encore, indeed.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPNsoccernet. He is also the author of "Soccer's Most Wanted II: The Top 10 Book of More Glorious Goals, Superb Saves and Fantastic Free-Kicks." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.