by Will Leitch
Saturday afternoon promises to be one of those special New York summer moments in which everyone is in a bar drinking and singing patriotic songs: Who’s up for a Collective Summer Experience? The United States plays Ghana in the World Cup Round of 16 at 2:30 p.m. on ABC, in probably the biggest soccer game in U.S. history. (This is also probably the third time we’ve been able to say that in two weeks.) So, what do you need to know going in? You’ve got questions, we’ve got answers.
Is Ghana good?
Yes. They’re 33rd in the FIFA rankings, which is probably a little lower than where they should be. They’re missing their best player, Michael Essien, but they played Germany strong in a 1-0 loss. They’re better on defense than they are on offense, and they have an excellent midfield, led by Kwadwo Asamoah, who is sort of their Michael Bradley.
Have we played them before?
We actually played them in the last World Cup. We lost 2–1, officially eliminating the United States from the tournament. It was another damned bad call that doomed them; Oguchi Onyewu was called for a penalty with the score tied 1–1 just before halftime, giving the Black Stars a penalty kick. Stephen Appiah banged it home, and the U.S. was never really in it after that.
How many Americans who played in that game will be playing tomorrow?
A few. Carlos Bocanegra, Steve Cherundolo, Clint Dempsey, Oguchi Onyewu, and Landon Donovan all suffered through that one. It was a low point in American soccer lore. This is a golden opportunity to make up for it.
The Black Stars is a pretty cool nickname, isn’t it?
Which team has the better soccer history?
Ghana has come on in recent years, but they’ve never made it past the quarterfinals. (The win over the U.S. sent them into the second round in 2006, which is their high point.) If the U.S. wins, it will be their third-ever trip into the quarterfinals, after 1930 (when they finished third) and 2002.
Is Ghana as hate-able as Italy or France?
No, but they’re the opponent, so we have to try. They’re an extremely physical team, so while you won’t be booing them for diving or flopping, you will be screaming at them when they try to take out Jozy Altidore’s knees. As a country, though, they’re among the wealthiest, least corrupt African nations; they actually rank 122nd in the Failed States Index, second best on the continent. This is a rather likable country, dammit.
Who is the most famous person from Ghana?
Probably Kofi Annan.
If you are rooting for Ghana and live in New York City, where should you watch tomorrow’s game?
Right here: There’s Hope Barber Shop, 195 East 167th Street, Bronx.
If you are rooting for the United States and live in New York City, where should you watch tomorrow’s game?
Anywhere else. Though if you want to get crazy, the official rooting headquarters is Jack Demsey’s on 33rd Street.
Is the U.S. happy to be playing Ghana?
Without question. Not only is there the Revenge for 2006 angle, but by winning Group C, the United States avoided being on the side of the bracket with Germany and Argentina. (That’s England’s problem now.) If the U.S. can beat Ghana, the USMNT will play the winner of Uruguay and South Korea, both teams below the U.S. in the FIFA rankings. The path to the semifinals, it’s there.
Are we going to have any referee problems?
It’s always possible. The referee tomorrow is Hungarian Viktor Kassai, who has worked for FIFA since 2003. This is his first World Cup, though tomorrow’s match won’t be his first WC match: He did the Brazil–North Korea game last week. Just in case, though: Here’s his Wikipedia page, unmolested for now.
If the U.S. wins Saturday, when do they play next?
If you can figure out how to leave work early next Friday, you’ll certainly enjoy yourself: The quarterfinal match will be at 2:30 p.m. on Friday, July 2. It would seem like an ideal way to send everyone off into the Independence Day weekend. But they have to win tomorrow, first.
Are they going to win?
According to Nate Silver’s Soccer Power Index, Ghana has a 51 percent chance of winning, thanks largely to the game being played on its home continent. (It is worth noting that we are currently beating Nate Silver in The Sports Section pool.) Still, that sounds about right: 50-50. The good news is: This is the knockout round, and there are no draws. (If the game is tied at the end of regulation, they play two fifteen-minute periods, and if it’s still tied then … it’ll go to penalties, as the saying goes: penalty kicks.
So we will have an answer. No matter what happens, you’ll leave your bar Saturday happy, or sad. That is to say: You will either be singing patriotic songs out of raw joy, or you will be singing them ironically. We don’t recommend the latter: It’ll typically get you punched.