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The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Game time

NUREMBERG, Germany-Win and hope.

That’s what it comes down to for the U.S. soccer team.

After four years of painstaking preparation, after an opening flop and a valiant tie, the Americans must beat Ghana on Thursday and get some help to advance to the World Cup’s second round.

Boom or bust?

That will be answered Thursday in an eight-sided stadium in Bavaria made famous by Hitler Youth marches.

“We know what we have to do,” U.S. captain Claudio Reyna said Wednesday. “There’s no hiding the fact that we need to win.”

For the United States to have a realistic shot at advancing to the second round, the Americans need Italy to beat the Czech Republic in a game that kicks off in Hamburg at the same time. There are other outcomes that could send the Americans through, but they are improbable because their 3-0 thumping by the Czechs means, in most combinations, the United States would have to beat Ghana by at least four goals.

If any of this happens, the likely reward would be a date with reigning champion and tournament favorite Brazil.

Reyna and coach Bruce Arena said they would consider the team’s performance a success with a victory, even if their World Cup ends.

“If we had four points and it wasn’t good enough to advance into the knockout stage, that’s life,” Arena said.

Do American players want to be told the score in the other game while they’re out on the field?

“If it’s 4-0 at half for Italy, I probably would want to know,” Landon Donovan said. “Otherwise, don’t tell me.”

At the 2002 tournament in Japan and South Korea, the Americans’ 3-1 loss to Poland in their final first-round game meant they needed South Korea to upset Portugal to advance. That happened, and the United States went on to beat Mexico before losing to Germany 1-0 in the quarterfinals.

This time the Americans have groped around for offense, and have yet to find it.

The world’s fifth-ranked team has a tournament-low one shot on goal. The only U.S. goal was accidentally scored by Italian defender Cristian Zaccardo in Saturday’s desperate 1-1 tie-a game in which the U.S. got its first point during a World Cup held in Europe by playing much of the second half one man down to the Italians.

On Thursday, the U.S. faces a Ghana team ranked 48th by soccer’s governing body. But it’s also a team that won 2-0 over the Czech side that made the U.S. look like World Cup misfits.

“I think the World Cup has clearly indicated their quality,” Arena said of the Ghanaians. “I would not have thought that in some of the leadup games.”

A former British colony that became independent in 1957, Ghana has one of the world’s top players in midfielder Michael Essien. Acquired last August by Chelsea from Lyon for $47 million, the 23-year-old helped the London club win its second straight English Premier League title.

“Essien is one of the top players in this tournament,” Arena said. “He’s brilliant, and he’s a player that we can’t just let him do anything he wants to do over 90 minutes, or else we’ll lose the game.”

U.S. forward Brian McBride played against him in England last season.

“Probably the only thing that’s going to neutralize him is us just keeping the ball,” McBride said.

The setting will be historic.

Nuremberg was where the war crimes of the Nazis were laid bare. The stadium, first constructed in the 1920s, is near the remains of Albert Speer’s Zeppelin Field, where huge Nazi rallies were held in the 1930s.

Both teams worked out at the stadium on a muggy Wednesday afternoon. Ghana captain Stephen Appiah, wearing a huge shiny earring and ring before training, laughed when asked about his favorite things to do when he visits the United States.

“Going to the clubs,” he said. “I’ve been in Miami, LA, Chicago and New Jersey, Houston.”

Ghana, which lost to Italy 2-0, would go to the second round with a victory, and possibly could advance with a tie.

“We are cool. We are cool, and we are ready,” Appiah said. “There’s no pressure on us.”

Each team will be missing a pair of suspended players. Ghana’s Asamoah Gyan and Sulley Muntari, its two goal scorers, will sit out, as will U.S. defender Eddie Pope and midfielder Pablo Mastroeni.

Jimmy Conrad, who entered after Pope was ejected against Italy, figures to take over his role in central defense. Replacing Mastroeni will be trickier.

Arena could insert Ben Olsen into defensive midfield, or he could alter the shape. Eddie Lewis, who started against the Czechs, could return in place of Carlos Bocanegra, who played against the Italians.

The Americans are convinced this has been the toughest of the eight first-round groups-it’s the only one in which no teams had clinched advancement or been eliminated going into the final day of play.

“We’re in a position now to get through,” Reyna said. “So the team knows that now we have to score. That’s obvious. But this team’s done it before. We know we can break out and have a game where we score a few goals, and hopefully this is the one.”


The Associated Press

Italy’s Gennaro Gattuso, left, and USA’s Brian McBride challenge for the ball during their World Cup Group E soccer match in Kaiserslautern, Germany on Saturday.

The Associated Press

Italy’s Gianluca Zambrotta heads the ball over USA’s Clint Dempsey during the first half of their World Cup Group E soccer match in Kaiserslautern, Germany on Saturday.

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