(Markus Merk, the Koman Coulibaly of his era)
Of today’s USA v Ghana Round Of 16 knockout clash, When Saturday Comes’ Ian Plenderleith muses, “no coach or player on either side would ever publicly admit to looking beyond the next game.” So Plenderleith does so himself, correctly noting the victor of this evening’s match in Rustenberg has a relatively clear path to the semi-finals, as well as providing a reminder what happened the last time the two sides collided.
Ghana, possibly with one eye on the Serbia v Australia scoreboard, looked tentative against Germany, and frustratingly failed to finish off ten-man Australia. Although they played well against Serbia, their goal and their victory came thanks to a fortuitous handball. There’s something of the old Portugal about them “ lots of nice approach play, but an absence of penetration or conviction to their finishing, with both Asamoah Gyan and Prince Tagoe looking ponderous in front of goal.
Ghana must attack the US early, when the American defence has looked slow and sleepy in all its games so far. If the Ghanaians allow the US to set the pace, they could miss their best chance to score and then dictate the match, with the Americans more likely to be effective on their swift counter-attacks the later the game goes on.
Four years ago in Germany the US had to beat Ghana to advance from the group stage, but fell well short in a lacklustre 2-1 loss in Nuremberg. In that game German referee Markus Merk awarded Ghana a penalty for a phantom foul by Oguchi Onyewu, and US fans have duly moaned about it ever since. In 2006, though, the US knew they’d been too poor over three games to justify progressing, and that knowledge has always undermined the complaints about Merk’s awful decision. Clearly today’s game will be a measure of how far both countries have come in the intervening time.