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USA v. Ghana Preview

Who’s the underdog in this match? If you have to ask the question, then the chances are that there isn’t an underdog. On paper this match is almost perfectly balanced. The Soccer Power Index (SPI) game indicator presents this balance as a win being slightly in favor of Ghana at 51% chance of a win versus, obviously, 49% for a win for the US.

The methodology that the SPI uses appears to be the best publicly available. If this were an international friendly played in Europe, then the US would be favored for the match. The SPI predicts that the US would have an average goal scoring rate of 2.2 goals per match and would concede an average of 1 goal per game. Ghana on the other hand is rated as scoring on average 1.4 goals per match, while it would concede on average 0.8 goals per game. Overall the US is rated out of 100 as a 78.3, while Ghana is rated as a 71.8.

The two major differences in the calculation in this instance are that Ghana is missing its star player in Michael Essien, but are playing on their home continent. Furthermore, Ghana will most likely be the only African team left in the tournament as Ivory Coast would have to overcome Portugal’s goal differential to advance. While the local support that Ghana will receive tips the normal balance in this match in favor of Ghana, all-in-all this looks like a dead even match on paper.

The conspiracy theory is that Ghana will be favored by FIFA to advance through the tournament as they will most likely be the only African team left at a World Cup on African soil. In such a view it  is possible that the referees will be unofficially receiving the message that an African team should be given favoritism.

Both teams will be coming off of short rest, so there is no advantage one way or the other there. The talent level of the players appears to be roughly equal. Even though Ghana is without Essien,  they still have a number of players with top flight experience throughout Europe. Their dangerous striker, Gyan Asamoah, plays for Rennes in France with Carlos Bocanegra. John Pantsil plays for Fulham with Clint Dempsey. Andrew Ayew is dangerous on the wing, and Stephen Appiah is an experienced leader in the midfield.

Ghana are a much stronger team than either Slovenia or Algeria in terms of the individual players. Their organization and defensive posture are on par with the Slovenians, which means they are very difficult to break down and their results in the group stage bear this out. They were able to prevent the Germans from scoring more than one goal, and they looked dangerous on the counterattack.

The Ghanians have shown strength, speed, fitness, strong passing, and creativity. They are a dangerous team and they came close to scoring a number of goals against Germany, which is not an easy thing to do. They appear to play with a defensive 4-2-3-1 that breaks quickly on the counterattack. They stop up the midfield, break up the attacking play, and use their speed to get past opposing defenses.

The US will need to make sure that they don’t fall into the trap of committing too many men forward looking for a game winner. They certainly can’t afford to go down a goal early against this team because their tactics are designed to score against the team in search of a goal. The US will need to make sure that its outside backs don’t go too far forward because the wingers on the Ghanian team are quick and dangerous. Bornstein may again see the pitch on the left side to try and deal with some of Ghana’s speed. Onyewu might still remain on the bench, but his strength could be very valuable against a very physically strong Ghanian team.

Using Maurice Edu or Ricardo Clark in midfield will be very important to deal with the strength and speed of the Ghanian midfield. The US might also benefit from packing the midfield by taking off a forward, putting Dempsey centrally, and playing Feilhaber, Beasley, or Holden on the wings along with Donovan. Having Bradley and Edu hang back as holding midfielders is also probably a good idea. This would leave Altidore up top alone, but with Dempsey just behind. This 4-5-1 could match up well against Ghana’s 4-2-3-1.

The US will have to pass sharply and not give up possession in the midfield or they could get exposed by the Ghanians’ speed. If the Ghanians come forward from the start as most teams have done against the US, then the US might be able to steal a goal on the counterattack.

If this were a group stage match,  a 0-0 or a 1-1 draw would not be surprising. Although this game could go to penalty kicks, both teams will probably try to decide the game before that. I would expect a 0-0 halftime score with the Ghanians pushing forward early. The US defense will look more improved and composed and will not concede early. That said, expect a cagey first half.

If there is no score at the start of the second half, expect both teams to start pushing forward more in search of a goal after the 60th minute. I predict a 2-1 US victory.

What do you think of the US team’s chances? What do you think of the Ghanian team? What’s your prediction for the match?

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