- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 22, 2006

HANOVER, Germany — The moment has arrived for the Americans. The U.S. team faces the biggest match in its World Cup history today — and in a setting where they have never won a game.

To advance to the final 16, the United States must beat a revived Ghana squad in Nuremberg and hope a disappointed Italian team simultaneously can rebound and dispatch the Czech Republic in Hamburg.

If the Americans win and get the necessary help, they likely would play Brazil in Dortmund on Tuesday in a rematch of a second-round game in the 1994 World Cup, a 1-0 Brazilian victory in Palo Alto, Calif. Brazil won the title that year.

The U.S. team will go home if it loses — a defeat that likely would end coach Bruce Arena’s tenure as national team coach.

If the Czech Republic and Italy tie, the U.S. team would need a massive win over Ghana to advance — improbable for a squad that has yet to score in the tournament. The goal credited to the United States in the 1-1 draw with Italy — a game that followed an embarrassing 3-0 loss to the Czechs — was scored by an Italian into his own net.

If it’s any comfort to the U.S. team, a tie will not be on the minds of Italy or the Czech Republic. Instead, each will be fighting to win Group E. The runner-up in the group will advance to face tournament favorite Brazil. The winner of the group will draw an easier opponent: Australia, Croatia or Japan.

“We thought when we started this World Cup all the teams would be alive on day three,” Arena said. “I thought that would be the situation, and it’s played out that way.”

If teams are tied on points, goal differential is the first tiebreaker; most goals scored overall is second.

Here are the scenarios facing the U.S. team on the last day of games in Group E:

• If the United States (0-1-1, one point) beats Ghana (1-1-0, three points) and Italy (1-0-1, four points) beats the Czech Republic (1-1-0, three points), the Americans would advance to the knockout phase of the final 16.

• If the U.S. team, with a goal differential of minus-3, beats Ghana by less than four goals but Italy and the Czech Republic tie, the Americans would be eliminated. The Czechs, currently with a plus-1 differential, would advance.

• If the U.S. team beats Ghana 5-0 or worse while Italy and the Czech Republic tie, no matter what the score, the Americans would advance because of a plus-2 goal differential over the Czechs.

• If the Czech Republic beats Italy 1-0, the U.S. team still would have to beat Ghana 4-0 to equal Italy on goal differential (plus-1) and advance on the next tiebreaker, goals scored.

The good news for the U.S. team is that the Black Cats of Ghana will play without their two goal scorers, Asamoah Gyan and Sulley Muntari, in the victory over the Czechs. Each player was suspended after receiving two yellow cards.

However, the U.S. team will be playing without suspended defender Eddie Pope and defensive midfielder Pablo Mastroeni.

Jimmy Conrad, who came off the bench in the game against Italy and performed well, likely will start in the back in place of Pope. John O’Brien or Ben Olsen will take on Mastroeni’s role.

“Ghana is very good,” U.S. midfielder DaMarcus Beasley said. “We’ve seen them play twice now, and we are going to have our hands full. They are quick and in your face. They defend well and then counterattack in numbers.”

The U.S. team does not have a star to match Ghana’s Michael Essien, who cost Chelsea $40million when the English club acquired him from French club, Lyon — a figure that makes him more expensive on the transfer market than all the American players combined.

“Essien is one of the top players in this tournament,” Arena said. “He not only organized their attack, he played well on defense.”

After the match with Italy in which the Americans were down to nine men but held on to tie, the U.S. team certainly has found unity.

“This team is not going down without a fight,” goalie Kasey Keller said. “Sure, we had a hiccup in the first game. That’s going to happen in this sport, and we might just lose to Ghana. But I tell you one thing: Ghana is going to know they’re in a battle.”

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