The U.S. men's soccer team defeated Ghana 2-1 Monday night, thanks to the forehead of backup defender John Brooks in the 86th minute. Despite losing some key components in their first match, the saying goes, "a win is a win," and as Brooks' header off of fellow substitute Graham Zusi's corner kick spoiled Ghana's hopes late in a tied contest, chants of "I believe" rang through the United States.
But will those chants continue through Sunday evening? Or will the U.S. be faced with a do-or-die game against a terrific German team next week? Here are a few major takeaways from the red, white and blue's first contest in the 2014 World Cup, as well as Ghana, who could become Team USA's best friend in the coming days.
First, the U.S. weren't physically prepared for Ghana.
Twenty minutes in, the most productive offensive player for the U.S.—Jozy Altidore—pulled up with a hamstring injury on a routine sideline run, and a host of U.S. players showed signs of fatigue, cramping and dehydration during the humid night in Natal.
Among those struggling was center back Matt Besler, who left the game due to tightness but should be fine for Sunday's match according to CBS Sports. Fortunately for the U.S., his replacement, Brooks, struck the game-winner.
Second, Team USA's most important player, now that Altidore is out, is undoubtedly goalkeeper Tim Howard.
While he's the rock of the U.S. defense, midfielders Michael Bradley and Kyle Beckerman will be expected to hold the pace in favor of the U.S. and shoulder some of the load by keeping possession and helping out Howard.
In Monday's contest, Howard was beaten by the Ghana attack just once in 21 shots while Ghana out-possessed the U.S. 60 percent to 40 percent. Ghana also took seven corners as opposed to three for the U.S. If the U.S. continues to get out-possessed and out-shot, expect the result of the group stage to fall solely on the shoulders of Howard.
For Ghana, their first match was a completely different story. They didn't seem to battle injury or fatigue to the extent the U.S. did. No, Ghana battled their own mental toughness as they sent jabs, right hooks, uppercuts and haymakers at the U.S., who were content with packing it in defensively.
With 21 shots—eight of which were on frame—and only one goal to show for it, Ghana's issues going forward will be mental. If they can get on the board early against Germany and Portugal, they may relieve some of the pressure and have a shot.
Another key factor for the Ghanaians is the lack of presence from their key players. Both Michael Essien and Kevin-Prince Boateng came on in the second half, and many were surprised they weren't included from the onset. If those two, along with Asamoah Gyan and their other attackers, can be a presence in their next two matches, they could steal a win or tie against the European teams.
Overall, it was a gutsy win by the U.S. who needed backups, benchwarmers and a late-game miracle to survive their first match. A win against Portugal on Sunday would certainly go a long way in elevating them out of the group stage.
However, if the U.S. tie or lose to Portugal this weekend and can't stun the Germans next week, they'll likely need a Ghana win over Portugal to stay alive.
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