By CARL SETTERLUND
Fans of the United States can breathe a collective a sigh of relief.
Although the Americans couldn’t help their own cause against Germany, they got just the result they needed in that other Group G game going on Thursday afternoon as Portugal downed Ghana 2-1 in a result that eliminated both nations and sent the United States through into the Round of 16.
An inexcusable parry from Ghanaian keeper Fatawu Dauda pushed the ball straight to an open Cristiano Ronaldo for the 80th-minute winner. Knowing Portugal was all but eliminated Ronaldo let off a bit of steam with a ground burner from near the penalty spot to decide the final result.
It was the dagger to conclude a nightmare day for the Ghanaians, which started with head coach Kwesi Appiah sending home Kevin-Prince Boateng and Sully Muntari.
The shorthanded Black Stars were dealt another devastating blow in the 30th minute as John Boye scored an own goal off a dangerous left-sided cross by Miguel Veloso.
The ball took a high bounce just as Boye went to clear it. Instead, it deflected off his knee, went up off the crossbar, off the right post and then in, leaving Dauda helpless in net.
Portugal took a 1-0 lead into the second half, but it didn’t last as striker Asamoah Gyan provided Ghana’s highlight of the day with a beautiful 57th-minute header to level it at 1-1.
Kwadwo Asamoah sliced in the picture perfect service to Gyan, picking him out at the far right post. With only Veloso near him, Gyan ran onto the ball unmarked and powered it home.
The goal made the 28-year-old the all-time World Cup scoring leader from Africa with six goals in the competition. Gyan has played in the last three World Cups for the Black Stars.
The previous African scoring leader was Cameroon legend Roger Milla with five.
Gyan’s tally put the Ghanaians in position for challenge for the second spot in Group G, at the time pulling them one goal behind the U.S. in goal differential. Another two goals would have sent Ghana through into the knockout stage, but Ronaldo’s late strike dashed any hopes of a late rally.
Ronaldo had an early highlight in the sixth minute, as what initially looked like a right side cross went dangerously off the crossbar, almost scoring from an unlikely angle.
He also had the best chance in the opening run of play as João Pereira served in a dangerous ball from the right sideline on the counterattack. Ronaldo headed on target from the edge of the six-yard box, but Dauda was there for the point blank save, one of six saves on the match for him.
The FIFA Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldo was by far the most dangerous player throughout the match, sending in nine shots, seven of them on frame. With a late multi-goal rally unlikely, Ronaldo didn’t take the foot off the gas after his winner, putting shots on goal in the 82nd and 92nd minutes.
Gyan was Ronaldo’s equal on the other end, also mustering nine shots and missing several times just wide on quality tries, but he was ultimately unable to will the Black Stars to the victory.
The result means Portugal finishes third in Group G, with it’s 4-0 opening loss to Germany giving the Portuguese too big a hole to climb out of, finishing with a minus-3 goal differential. Ghana finished at the bottom of the group after going 0-2-1.
Both teams had made it to at least the Round of 16 in the previous two World Cups, but couldn’t emerge out of this year’s “Group of Death.”