So many questions lay before the USA soccer squad before their first game against Ghana in the FIFA World Cup.
Would they finally be able to top the African nation that had ended their dreams the last two World Cups? Would coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s coaching style work? Could these Americans prove that they could handle the toughest group in the tournament? How would Landon Donovan possibly be replaced?
Just 30 seconds into the game, the answer came.
Forward Clint Dempsey got hold of the ball 10 yards outside of Ghana’s box and dribbled it in, juking Ghana defender John Boye along the way, putting himself in a one-on-one situation with Ghanaian keeper Adam Kwarasey. A left-footed strike from Dempsey slid past Kwarasey, hitting the right post and rolling in.
Just like that, the “I believe” chant that has become America’s symbol of hope came to full fruition.
It was America’s for the taking. And for most of the game, it was clear that this team was ready for the moment.
But even more impressive was how the U.S. team did it. The game was no walk in the park, and the resilience shown shed light on what Klinsmann’s group can handle.
U.S. striker Jozy Altidore was lost after just 20 minutes of play, grabbing his left hamstring and plummeting to the ground while trying to chase down a ball. Dempsey also suffered a bloody nose in the first half.
All the while Ghana, playing much more aggressively in the second half, was able to put the pressure on the American defense, and in the 82nd minute, saw this aggression pay off when midfielder Andre Ayew rocketed the equalizing goal past American keeper Tim Howard.
The memories of the previous defeats at the hands of the quick and agile Ghanaian team started creeping back. But something was different this time: There was no panic among the U.S. squad.
Instead we witnessed a confidence. The same confidence exhibited by multiple players on the team who said prior to arriving in Brazil that they relished being in the acclaimed “group of death” — which also includes Portugal and powerhouse Germany.
The “I believe” attitude could be felt. And when U.S. substitute defender John Brooks headed one into the net just a few minutes before the final whistle, little doubt was left that this team had done everything necessary to prepare for this stage, and more so, that they had done it without doubt.
Both teams had expressed confidence in the ability to win this game but the U.S. had shown it.
“It was what we expected,” Klinsmann said in an interview with ESPN after the contest. “We got the three points that we wanted and we can move on.”
The 2-1 win was necessary for the Americans to have a realistic chance to make it out of their group.
Given Portugal’s struggles against Germany earlier in the day, the window of opportunity to advance seems to have already expanded for Klinsmann’s side.
More than ever, this American group is certain they can prove their readiness to take on the most frightening of teams in this world-class competition and once again display the growth of the sport in North America.
The last time the U.S. won its opening game of the World Cup was 2002, just before Dempsey joined the international team. On Monday afternoon, he finally got to experience that same feeling.
“It was a dream come true,” Dempsey said. “This win will give us confidence going into the next game. The boys showed a lot of heart.”