Two whales and two minnows in the global soccer scene reached the World Cup's Round of 16 in Thursday's action in Germany. Perennial favorites Brazil and Italy topped Groups F and E, respectively, while Ghana and Australia each advanced to the knockout stage for the first time ever.
Ghana's gain was the U.S. team's loss, though, as the Americans bowed out by falling to the Africans 2-1 in Nuremburg. Haminu Draman stripped U.S. captain Claudio Reyna of the ball deep in U.S. territory and stuffed the ball past Kasey Keller to put Ghana up before the New England Revolution's Clint Dempsey smacked a shot home to tie the game. Just before the break, though, Ghana got the game-winner, Stephen Appiah converting a penalty kick after a controversial call against Oguchi Onyewu. Ghana will meet Brazil in the Round of 16 on Tuesday.
The five-time World Cup winners will move into their match against Ghana coming off of their best performance yet in the 2006 World Cup, a 4-1 thrashing of Japan. With all of Brazil's firepower, it was actually the Japanese that struck first. Tamada Keiji blasted his side to an early lead, which they couldn't quite hold until the intermission. Real Madrid's Ronaldo tied things up in first half stoppage time.
Brazil turned up the heat in the second 45 minutes and produced goals from Juninho, Gilberto and a second by Ronaldo, which tied him with German legend Gerd Muller for the all-time lead in World Cup goals (14).
The day's final match produced much drama, with Australia advancing to the second round thanks to Harry Kewell's 79th-minute equalizer. Darijo Srna gave Croatia a dream start when he scored from a free kick two minutes in, but Craig Moore's penalty kick 36 minutes later left the side square again. Croatia went in front 11 minutes after halftime through Niko Kovac, but Kewell's shot from close range gave the Aussies the one point they needed to make it through the group stage. They'll face Italy on Monday.
Jonathan Nierman is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.