SAO PAULO – Yes, at least a few members of the US national team caught a glimpse of Ghana’s emphatic 4-0 win over South Korea on Monday night in Miami.
But no, the Americans are not quaking in their boots after a sure-handed result in the Black Stars’ final tuneup before they take on the USMNT on June 16 in Natal, the opening game of the group stage for both sides.
US midfielder Michael Bradley said before the team’s first of two workouts on Tuesday that the American players missed the first half of Ghana’s game because of a team meeting and only caught the second 45 minutes, when Ghana built on a 2-0 halftime lead and buried the Koreans at Sun Life Stadium.
But he promptly downplayed any real message sent by the Black Stars, who also lost 1-0 to the Netherlands in a sloppy tuneup performance in Rotterdam on May 31.
“It would be easy to look at the end and say, ‘4-0, what a performance,’” Bradley said. “But still it’s a warm-up game, regardless of how the game went [Monday]. We have a lot of respect for Ghana. They’re a good team. We know that they’re dangerous and cause trouble.
“But at the end of it,” he added, “I’m not sure how much we can take from last night or any of the games, to be honest.”
Substitute Jordan Ayew scored three goals and Asamoah Gyan also scored in the win, but Ghana head coach Kwesi Appiah admitted before the match that any result might be something of a red herring, telling media in Miami that “how we play [against Korea] may be very different from how we play the US in Brazil.”
The US, for their part, head into the first game on the heels of their most complete performance in the run-up to Brazil, a 2-1 win over Nigeria on Saturday in Jacksonville, Florida. And while goalkeeper Tim Howard said Monday that he felt the team was far along in their preparations for the Ghana match following three Send-Off Series games, Bradley said he was cautious to interpret the results on either side.
“In general, I think it’s hard to take anything from these warm-up games,” Bradley said. “Teams are trying different things. Guys get put on the field in different spots. It’s always important to remember that players get put in difficult spots in these games because now you want to be sharp, you want to play well, you’re trying to make sure that as the tournament gets closer that there is confident and momentum.
“But at the same time they’re still warm-up games, so I think last night was a good example of that.”
Regardless of the lineup Appiah uses against the US on June 16, the two sides share plenty of history that is, as US followers know, inescapable. The Americans were bounced from the group stage with a loss to Ghana in 2006 and then again in the knockout round in 2010, when Gyan scored the game-winning goal of a 2-1 victory three minutes into extra time.
And while only a few holdovers remain from the 2010 team to this one – three field players and Howard were the only ones on the current team who played in that match – Bradley said the loss is still fresh in his mind, as is the threat the Black Stars pose again four years later.
“The way that they play, they can take certain plays and almost improvise and turn a half-play into a chance,” Bradley said. “We have to understand what they’re all about. I do think it’s a different team than the one we played in 2010, and obviously a different coach. In 2010 they were played more 4-1-4-1 and were pretty organized. Those little details are still to be seen, and how now they’re going to approach the first game against us.”
The Americans have won their first group-stage match just once in the past six World Cup appearances – the infamous 3-2 victory over Portugal that keyed an unexpected run to the quarterfinals in 2002 – but they also advanced after pulling out draws in 1994 and 2010. All three times they lost the first game - 1990, 1998 and 2006 - they were eventually eliminated before reaching the knockout round.
Since the tournament expanded to 32 teams in 1998, 85 percent of teams that won the first game advanced to the knockout round, while 58 percent advanced after recording a draw. Only four teams who lost their first game advanced to the group stage, including reigning champion Spain in 2010.
And those stats - and the Americans' history of a tough road after losing the first game -aren't new to Bradley.
“We’ve certainly made no secret of the fact that all the focus at this point is about Ghana,” he said.
“We’re sitting here now and talking about wanting to start well, but just because you talk about it doesn’t mean that it’s guaranteed. We have to have a strong enough mentality and enough commitment that say no matter how it goes, no matter what happens in the first few minutes of the first game, that we’re ready to just keep going and going and going, knowing that at the end of three games, more often than not, the best teams are going to go through.”