World Cup roundup: USA-GHA, IRN-NGA, GER-POR (June 16)

Sulley Muntari of Ghana competes for the ball against Jermaine Jones of Team USA during the World Cup in Natal, Brazil, on June 16, 2014. (Marius Becker/DPA via Zuma Press/MCT)
Sulley Muntari of Ghana competes for the ball against Jermaine Jones of Team USA during the World Cup in Natal, Brazil, on June 16, 2014. (Marius Becker/DPA via Zuma Press/MCT)

Sulley Muntari of Ghana competes for the ball against Jermaine Jones of Team USA during the World Cup on June 16. MCT PHOTO

Group G: United States 2, Ghana 1

NATAL, Brazil — After 90 brutal minutes of end-to-end action, the Americans emerged with a thrilling 2-1 win over Ghana.

"It was a grind, but it was a wonderful win at the end of the day," coach Jurgen Klinsmann said.

U.S. fans were screaming for revenge after the Black Stars eliminated the Americans from the last two Cups.

They got it. At a price.

Clint Dempsey scored a shocking goal a half-minute in, but the U.S. couldn't make it stand up. Andre Ayew tied the score in the 82nd minute after a brilliant back-heel pass from Asamoah Gyan, who had eliminated the U.S. four years ago.

And then, just four minutes later, 20-year-old John Brooks rose to head in Graham Zusi's corner kick from 8 yards — the first substitute to ever score for the United States in 30 World Cup games over 84 years. The defender, an unexpected addition to the American roster, was so overcome he fell to the field and was unable to move even after teammates climbed off the dog pile. He had made his national team debut only last August, and Brooks hadn't scored in four appearances.

"We got the three points that we badly wanted," Klinsmann said.

He had predicted this would be like a final. Jozy Altidore was hoping it wasn't his finale.

The forward was carried off on a stretcher after his left hamstring gave out in the 21st minute when he tried to control a long ball. He awaits tests that will determine whether he can return for this World Cup.

Dempsey went down too on a balmy late-autumn night but stayed in the game. The U.S. captain ended the first half with a tissue up his nose to stop the bleeding after John Boye's kick to his face during a battle for a header in the 31st minute, and he was struggling for breath in the second.

The Americans "showed a lot of heart, a lot of character," Dempsey said.

Tim Howard made big save after big save as Ghana outshot the U.S. 21-8.

Now the odds favor advancement. But that might depend on which players are able to make it on the field for Sunday's game against Portugal in the hot and humid Amazon rain forest capital of Manaus.

Group F: Iran 0, Nigeria 0

CURITIBA, Brazil — Nigeria and Iran delivered the first draw of the World Cup as they ground out a scrappy 0-0 stalemate in their opening match in Group F.

The draw at the Arena da Baixada in the southern Brazilian city of Curitiba followed 12 mostly high scoring and attacking games.

After a first half in which Nigeria failed to capitalize on its dominance, chances were few and far between in the second.

In the early passages of play, Nigeria had shown menace, with much of its attacking thrust coming down the left with Emmanuel Emenike and Victor Moses combining to cause problems for the defensively-minded Iran side.

Nigeria came closest to scoring in the seventh minute when an Ahmed Musa goal was disallowed after John Obi Mikel was adjudged to have fouled Iran goalkeeper Alireza Haghighi at a corner.

"They had 11 people behind the ball, which made it hard for us to create chances," Mikel said. "It's frustrating because they sat back."

Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi said his team became anxious when it failed to score during a dominant opening 25 minutes.

But he added: "Respect to Iran, they had their game plan to sit back and defend and they did well."

Keshi, who played for Nigeria at the 1994 World Cup, is already anticipating a backlash after the draw.

"Win or lose, I'm criticized," said Keshi, whose side won last year's Africa Cup of Nations. "A draw now, I'll be criticized. It's part of the game. In my country, it's win at all costs and sometimes it doesn't go that way."

The best chance either side has to progress in the tournament is to beat debutant Bosnia-Herzegovina, as Argentina is the firm favorite to top the group. Lionel Messi scored one of the tournament's best goals in Argentina's 2-1 victory over the Bosnians on Sunday.

The draw means the winless World Cup runs of both teams continues, dating back to France 1998. For Iran, though, this was the first time it had not conceded a goal at the World Cup finals.

Group G: Germany 4, Portugal 0

SALVADOR, Brazil — Coach Joachim Loew left Germany's all-time leading scorer on the bench in the World Cup opener against Portugal and it proved to be the right move.

Loew raised some eyebrows in Germany when he decided to call up only one classic striker into his squad, the country's top-scoring Miroslav Klose.

But Loew's decision to put his faith in Thomas Müller paid dividends, when the attacking midfielder scored his first hat trick for Germany in a 4-0 romp over Portugal in their Group G opener.

"He is such an unorthodox player, as a coach you never know what he is about to do," Loew said. "For opponents, he is very unpredictable, he only has one thought on his mind and that is to score a goal."

Loew has been favoring a "false nine" system, with attacking midfielders swapping positions and passes to break clear of the defenders.

It worked like a dream against Portugal.

Müller converted a 12th-minute penalty — earned by Goetze — then stripped Bruno Alves of the ball to score his second and Germany's third just before halftime that all but put the game away.

In between, Mats Hummels headed in off a corner and Portugal's defender Pepe was sent off, for an altercation with Müller.

Müller said he had no qualms about taking the penalty.

"I've been in some big matches and it's not like I get afraid," Müller said.

Loew said he also valued Müller not only for his scoring.

"He ran a lot and tied Pepe and Bruno Alves [Portugal's two defenders], who had to stay behind and could not go forward," he said. "That allowed Goetze and Ozil to look for space. That was planned."

Loew's plan was to "win the ball in midfield and quickly attack" and the coach said the players executed it well.


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