The United States kicked off its 2014 FIFA World Cup with a thrilling 2-1 victory against Ghana on Monday in Natal, Brazil. Sporting Kansas City midfielder Graham Zusi provided the game-winning assist with an 86th-minute corner kick as the Americans avenged losses to Ghana in the previous two World Cups.
The U.S. raced to a dream start as Clint Dempsey scored the earliest ever American World Cup goal just 32 seconds into the match. The Black Stars leveled through Andre Ayew in the 83rd minute, but the U.S. would quickly regain the lead, this time for good, as defender John Brooks rose high to nod home Zusi’s corner kick late in the second half.
Defender Matt Besler started the match and Zusi entered in the 77th minute, making Sporting KC the only club to feature multiple players who saw action in the game for the Americans. Besler became the second player to start a World Cup match for the U.S. while playing club soccer in Kansas City (Jimmy Conrad, 2006).
Ghana, who had defeated the U.S. in the 2006 World Cup group stage and 2010 World Cup Round of 16, was shell-shocked less than a minute into the match. Dempsey received a pass from Jermaine Jones, cut past two defenders and struck just inside the right post to become the first U.S. player to score in three separate World Cups.
The U.S. suffered an injury blow after 20 minutes as striker Jozy Altidore strained his left hamstring chasing a long ball from Michael Bradley. He was replaced by 23-year-old Icelandic-American forward Aron Johannsson.
Besler was forced into action in the 27th minute when Daniel Opare whipped a cross into the box from the right wing. The Overland Park, Kansas native slid to deflect the ball out for a corner, which the U.S. comfortably defended.
Goalkeeper Tim Howard made his first big save of the tournament in the 32nd minute, parrying Asamoah Gyan’s low strike wide of goal. Besler then blocked a shot at the top of the box from Christian Atsu and cleanly dispossessed Jordan Ayew with a slide tackle before the U.S. took a 1-0 lead into the break.
Besler’s 18th cap would end at halftime, as he required precautionary replacement after pulling his right hamstring late in the first half. The 21-year-old Brooks subbed on, joining Geoff Cameron in central defense.
Ghana asserted control after the restart and created three quick chances 10 minutes into the second half. Sulley Muntari fired narrowly wide from long range and Gyan nodded just high of the crossbar, then had another header pushed away by Howard.
Zusi earned his 24th cap and World Cup debut in the 77th minute, replacing Alejandro Bedoya as Klinsmann’s third and final substitute.
The Black Stars equalized seven minutes from time following a slick attacking move. Gyan received a pass inside the box and back-heeled it into the path of Ayew, who blasted low past Howard.
The U.S., however, wasted no time going back in front. Nine minutes after his introduction to the match, Zusi registered his fifth international assist. He curled a perfect corner kick into the center of the penalty area, and Brooks rose high to thump a header past Ghana goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey.
Ghana was unable to mount another dangerous attack, and the U.S. won its World Cup opening match for just the second time since 1930.
The victory puts the U.S. in second place in Group G on goal differential. Germany thrashed Portugal 4-0 earlier Monday afternoon as Bayern Munich forward Thomas Muller scored the tournament’s first hat trick.
Klinsmann’s squad has five days off before its second group stage match against Portugal on Sunday (5 p.m. CT, ESPN) in the Amazonian city of Manaus.