Unlike in the previous two World Cups this time it’s not a win-or-go-home match but, with Germany and Portugal waiting, it remains a game both teams need to win
Ghana and United States will meet on Monday at Arena das Dunas for the third time in a row in the World Cup, a rivalry that has so far been dominated by the Black Stars.
In 2006, the African side won 2-1 in their last game of the group phase, making it to the second round in the process and sending the Americans home. Four years later, it was again 2-1, this time after extra time in the round of 16.
A defeat won’t mean elimination this time for either side but, considering they have Germany and Portugal as next opponents, this is a game both need to win to have a chance of surviving what many consider the Group of Death.
Four years after being a penalty shootout away from making history as the first African side to reach the semi-finals, Ghana have retained most of the squad of 2010 and the same style: solid in defence and dangerous on the counterattack, yet still lacking some creativity in midfield.
Coach Kwesi Appiah plays with a 4-2-3-1 formation in which the key player could start as left back. Kwadwo Asamoah was once expected to become the playmaker that the Black Stars lacked, but he has been converted to a wing-back at club level with Juventus.
He would still play as left winger, but it seems that spot will be occupied by Jordan Ayew, who scored a hat-trick against South Korea in Ghana's last friendly. His brother, Andre, will start on the right side.
Behind striker Asamoah Gyan, Kevin-Prince Boateng is more a support forward than a true playmaker. Michael Essien and Sulley Muntari will form a midfield duo that seems solid, although neither man is at the peak of his career.
Jonathan Mensah and John Boye have formed a good partnership in defence in recent games, with Harrison Afful the most likely option to play as right-back, although he could switch to the left if Appiah finally decides to play Asamoah in a more advanced role. Adam Kwarasey will start as goalkeeper.
On the other side, coach Jurgen Klinsmann made headlines when he left star Landon Donovan out of his World Cup squad, but a more significant decision has been his switch in his last four friendly matches to a 4-4-1-1 system with a diamond midfield, a rare occurrence among the teams in Brazil.
This formation allows Michael Bradley to play with less defensive responsibilities, constantly joining Clint Dempsey to provide chances for striker Jozy Altidore. Each of these three players is a scoring threat to opposing defences.
Kyle Beckerman seems poised to play as holding midfielder, with Alejandro Bedoya and Jermaine Jones or Graham Zusi behind Bradley. Considering the strength of their group rivals, the more balanced Jones looks like a safer option than Zusi. Goalkeeper Tim Howard is the cornerstone behind a defence that has struggled to find its four best options.
Geoff Cameron and Matt Besler have not played together many times in the centre, while Fabian Johnson and DeMarcus Beasley are two versatile players who have not settled as full-backs; they are both willing and able to join the attack, but suspicious on their defensive duties.