When USA line up against Ghana in the second round in Rustenburg, revenge will be a natural motivation. Four years ago, the Black Stars claimed second place behind eventual champions Italy from Group E after beating the Americans 2-1 in the decisive final group match in Nuremberg.
It was a contentious contest, and both teams would seem to have even more to lose on Saturday. Ghana carry the hopes of the African continent and the increased expectations of a second consecutive appearance in the knockout rounds, while the US – riding the wave of a media frenzy back home – are dreaming of a run to the semi-finals that would cement their rising status in world football.
Both teams have achieved much in the intervening years and are among the emerging stars of South Africa 2010. Ghana's youth team won the FIFA U-20 World Cup late last year and a senior team utilising a number of those players finished second in January's CAF Africa Cup of Nations. The Americans stunned the world by reaching the FIFA Confederations Cup final last year after knocking the number one team in the world, Spain, off the perch of their undefeated run.
Now the two will collide with an eye back to what Landon Donovan called a “tentative” and “disappointing” loss in 2006. Both teams have new coaches, and each side have only six players in the squad that took the field in Germany. The defensive trio of goalkeeper Richard Kingson and defenders John Pantsil and John Mensah still play a major part for Ghana, who are the youngest team at the World Cup by virtue of their so-called golden generation. For the US, five of the players - Steve Cherundolo, Oguchi Onyewu, Carlos Bocanegra, Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan - continue to form the spine of the team.
The inspirational Dempsey found his international legs on 22 June, 2006, smashing in the only goal the US managed to score themselves in the tournament with a powerful first-time strike after DaMarcus Beasley intercepted Derek Boateng's pass. Both players involved in this goal are here in South Africa, but neither has featured often.
Speaking to FIFA.com, Fulham's Dempsey, who was 23 at the time and playing for New England Revolution, recalled the importance of the goal for his career “On a personal level, it was a rollercoaster,” he said about the last World Cup. “I was just thrilled to be on the team... but against Ghana, I played the whole game and we were in it to the end and I got to score my goal. I think it was then that I showed I was able to play at the top level.”
Dempsey's goal cancelled out Haminu Dramani's opener in the 43rd minute, but the Ghanaians took a decisive lead by half-time after captain Stephen Appiah - also a little-used substitute in South Africa - converted a penalty after a foul by Onyewu. And though they have since earned the reputation as come-from-behind kings, the Stars and Strips did not have the imagination to break down the Michael Essien-led west Africans. Brian McBride hit the woodwork, but the US would get no closer. For his part, Donovan does not share Dempsey's positive memories, recalling yesterday: “That was not a good day for me or my team.”