RUSTENBURG: Four years after sending the United States crashing out of the World Cup, Ghana`s Black Stars again block the Americans` path and are the only African team into the knockout rounds.
Former US President Bill Clinton is among the American supporters who will make his way to this rural farm town for Saturday`s match after watching Landon Donovan score in stoppage time for a 1-0 US victory over Algeria to advance.
"Hands down the biggest moment in my career. That`s something I will have embedded in my mind forever," Donovan said. "I`m so proud of our guys. We kept going and we believed. We`re alive. We`re not done yet.
"My guess is Saturday is going to be a pretty cool occasion for our country."
Moments from a repeat of 2006`s disappointment, the Americans continued a thrill-ride run that has them ranked atop their quarter of the draw with dreams of matching the 1930 US semi-final run from a World Cup with only 13 teams.
The Americans rallied to draw England 1-1, came back from two goals down to draw Slovenia 2-2 with a disallowed winning goal and shook off another controversial no-goal referee call to solve Algeria at the death to advance.
"We`re like the `Cardiac Kids` at the moment," US goalkeeper Tim Howard said. "That emotion, that passion is what American sports fans thrive on."
Several US players have said that the memory of the 2006 flop is in the back of their minds, an exit caused by a 2-1 loss to Ghana in the 2006 group stage. Donovan in particular was ripped for the failure but has moved past it now.
"That was not a good day for me or the team," Donovan said. "What I remember most is my tentativeness and after that was the finality of it all.
"I`ve already put that behind me. This is the chance to do something special."
Ghana`s Black Stars, however, are ready to spoil the US show once again.
"From the beginning of the tournament, we were all dreaming to go to the semi-finals and now we have a big chance to do it," said Ghana defender Hans Sarpei, who plays for Germany`s Bayer Leverkusen.
"Now anything can happen. We are playing very well. We can beat anybody."
South Korea or Uruguay awaits the US-Ghana winner instead of once-possible powerhouse foes as Germany or Argentina.
US captain Carlos Bocanegra, who calls the Americans "heart attack-esque" for their tendency to play their best when pushed to the edge, knows how dangerous Ghana are.
"It`s going to be a difficult game," Bocanegra said. "They have some players who are capable of scoring goals. They are an athletic side. You never count them out."
Bocanegra knows well the skills of Ghana star Asamoah Gyan, his teammate at French club Rennes.
"He`s an athletic player," Bocanegra said. "He has got a great jump. He`s great in the air. He`s a pretty explosive player."
Gyan says his team is on the right path despite his two penalty kicks being the only World Cup goals for the Black Stars.
"The Americans are a very good team. They expend a lot of energy and are strong physically," Gyan said. "But we too have good players. It is for that that we have so much self-confidence."
Ghana defender John Pantsil, who is a Fulham teammate of US midfielder Clint Dempsey, warns the Black Stars will be more dangerous now.
"We are going to correct our mistakes and speak to our strikers so that they can be more effective," he said. "We believe in ourselves and we are going to score more goals."
KEY TO MATCH
Ghana`s Gyan against US defender Bocanegra
Two penalty kicks by Gyan got Ghana this far. Bocanegra knows him well from club days. That means Ghana`s Sulley Mantari and Kevin-Prince Boateng must find a way to beat a tough US backline or hope for a US blunder.
BDST: 1452hrs, June 25, 2010