Clint Dempsey of the U.S. (C) shoots to score a goal during their 2014 World Cup Group G soccer match against Ghana at the Dunas arena in Natal June 16, 2014. Photo by Carlos Barria, Reuters.
NATAL, Brazil - The United States got a dream start to their World Cup campaign when Clint Dempsey scored the fifth fastest goal in tournament history but they needed an 86th minute winner from John Brooks to secure a dramatic 2-1 win over Ghana on Monday.
Dempsey drilled the ball into the net with the goal officially timed at 29 seconds and it looked like being enough until Andre Ayew finally secured some reward for Ghana's pressure with an equalizer seven minutes from the end.
The contest looked destined for a draw until substitute defender Brooks rose to head Graham Zusi's corner firmly into the back of the net and give the United States revenge over the team that ended their participation in the last two World Cups.
"Any team you have beaten twice will come out very strong and I believe they came out very strong and they were determined not to lose a third time. We were unfortunate," Ghana coach Kwesi Appiah said.
Juergen Klinsmann's side will now go onto their next match against Portugal, beaten 4-0 by Germany in the Group G opener earlier on Monday, with renewed belief that they can reach the last 16.
"We knew it was going to be a grind and it was going to go down to the wire against a very strong Ghana side," the U.S. coach said.
"I was convinced we would win the game even after the equalizer. I knew two or three opportunities would come and we would have to take one. It's a good feeling to have the first three points."
The Black Stars, quarter-finalists and heroes of an entire continent in South Africa four years ago, will rue their profligacy in front of goal and now face a huge task if they are to get past the group stage for the third straight tournament.
Ghana's problems started at the back and fears many had about the fragility of their defence were confirmed when Dempsey struck before many of the fans had got back in their seats after the anthems.
He took the pass from Jermaine Jones at pace, cut inside central defender John Boye on his left foot, controlled the ball with his right, then went back to the left for the finish across the goalkeeper and inside the far post.
Dempsey, who scored a goal after 35 seconds against Jamaica two years ago, became the first American to hit the back of the net in three World Cups.
Ghana soon settled, however, and showed that at the other end of the pitch they were an altogether different proposition with right winger Christian Atsu looking particularly dangerous in all but the delivery of the final ball.
Captain Asamoah Gyan squandered a string of opportunities for an equaliser but he was not alone with Jordan Ayew, son of Abedi Pele, passing up an excellent chance just before halftime with a weak shot after Atsu had beaten the offside trap.
It was left to Ayew's brother Andre to get Ghana back into the match in the 83rd minute, latching on to his skipper's neat back flick and lashing the ball into the net with the outside of his left boot from almost the same spot Dempsey had scored from.
The Americans would not be denied, however, and three minutes later Brooks proved the unlikely winner to send the red, white and blue half of the stadium into raptures.
The victory came at a cost, though, with striker Jozy Altidore looking unlikely to play any further part in the tournament after limping off with a left hamstring injury after 20 minutes.
Dempsey finished the match with a bloodied and swollen nose after taking a whack in the face from Boye's boot, while Matt Besler was withdrawn at halftime with what looked like another hamstring problem.
It was Besler's departure that allowed Brooks to win his fifth cap and ultimately maintain German Klinsmann's record of having won the opening match at every World Cup he has competed in as both a player and a coach.
(Editing by Nigel Hunt)