Goal.com studies the key match-ups in Saturday night's battle...The USA and Ghana will both legitimately feel that they have a good opportunity to progress to the last 16 of the World Cup finals, pitted against each other in Saturday evening’s fixture. Both sides have shown admirable qualities to this point in the competition, with the highlight of the Stars and Stripes’ campaign arguably their 1-1 draw with England, while the Ghanaians’ opening victory over Serbia showed that they could be a dangerous floater in the knockout stage.
It took a goal from Landon Donovan in the last seconds of the USA’s final group fixture against Algeria to send Bob Bradley’s side through to the knockout phase after they leapt from bottom of Group C to top in one fell swoop. Ghana, meanwhile, edged out Australia and Serbia to move through from Group D.
Each side boasts players of genuine quality within their ranks, but they also function well as a whole. Here are some of the key battles Goal.com envisage will shape the game.
Jose Altidore (Castrol Ranking: 1431) v John Mensah (Castrol Ranking: 1413)
The USA have been lacking real punch in attack when they’ve been deployed in a 4-4-2 formation, always looking a little brighter when the coach has been forced to reshuffle his pack mid-match. Altidore has looked their brightest prospect, but the former Hull City loanee will have his work cut-out to break down an impressive Ghanaian rearguard.
Altidore’s pace and movement will be the two assets that he looks to employ to trouble the Black Stars, as those qualities have thus far troubled both opposing defences he has faced. The young Villarreal forward has at times been wasteful in front of goal, and lacking support from a regular partner, he may struggle to make a big impression. Interestingly, in his last Premier League game, he was dismissed against Mensah’s Sunderland, though the Ghanaian centre-back didn’t feature.
Mensah, meanwhile, has had his problems with injury during the World Cup, missing his nation’s second game against Australia, during which they limped to a 1-1 draw against the ten-man Socceroos. Back for the following match-up against Germany, the experience of the Olympique Lyonnais man, who was on loan to the Mackems last season, will prove vital during such a big encounter.
This will be a tight battle, with Mensah coming out marginally on top largely due to the lack of an effective partner for Altidore.
Michael Bradley (Castrol Ranking: 629) - Anthony Annan (Castrol Ranking: n/a)
In the centre of pitch the USA have looked strong, and the Ghanaians will have to counteract the dangerous attacking play of the Stars and Stripes from that area of the field if they are to flourish.
Bradley, son of the coach, has been one of the primary reasons why his nation have progress this far, enjoying a fine competition to date. The 22-year-old Borussia Moenchengladbach player has shown himself to have a knack of timing his runs into the box perfectly, providing a very dangerous late addition to the attack. Slovenia know all about his danger, as the player rated at 629 in the Castrol Rankings struck late on to secure a come-from-behind 2-2 draw for the States in their second group match.
Annan, meanwhile, is Ghana’s primary destructive player in the centre of the pitch and has already displayed his combativeness in many situations in the tournament to date. The IK Start midfielder has shown himself to be a wholehearted figure, who is occasionally prone to the odd rash challenge.
This clash between two rising stars will be won by the dynamic Bradley, who seems to have a natural knack for breaking forward at the right time.
Landon Donovan (Castrol Ranking: n/a) - Hans Sarpei (Castrol Ranking: 1809)
Another very real threat from the American midfield is Landon Donovan, who has been used in a wide berth since the beginning of the competition, and it will be Hans Sarpei who is handed the task of stopping him.
Donovan brings the star to the Stars and Stripes. A player of genuine top class ability, the attacker has persistently been his nation’s top performer in internationals over the course of nearly a decade and already has two goals to his name in this competition, despite not hitting top form. Quick, clever and a smart finisher, the LA Galaxy man will take some stopping if he is allowed to exert an influence on the game.
Sarpei, meanwhile, brings valuable experience to the Ghana rearguard. A veteran player, he has been crucial in the Black Stars’ push to the last 16, though the 33-year-old now faces his greatest task to date. He will have to use all his nous to prevent Donovan getting the better of him.
Donovan will win this individual battle; if he only gets the ball in a good area five times over the course of the match, he’s liable to do some damage with it.
Carlos Bocanegra (Castrol Ranking: 587) - Asamoah Gyan (Castrol Ranking: 352)
Ghana have not necessarily found scoring goals easy, and Asamoah Gyan will have to pick his way past Stade Rennais club-mate Carlos Bocanegra if he is to find his third goal of the competition.
Bocanegra was moved inside to centre-back against Algeria after playing the opening fixtures of the competition on the left, but he has looked equally adept in either role. The former Fulham defender has led well from the back and has been in impressive form for his country, who will draw confidence from their clean sheet against les Fennecs.
Facing him will be the familiar figure of Gyan, who has Ghana’s only goals of the competition by way of a couple of penalties. Sometimes wasteful in front of goal, the striker will have to be lethal if he is to fully punish any slips in the Stars and Stripes’ rearguard.
This clash will be close, but Bocanegra will come out on top due to his experience and calm head.
USA 2-0 Ghana