FORTALEZA, Brazil - Ghana and Germany exchanged body blows like prized fighters Saturday, turning the World Cup on its head for a 20-minute, four-goal span. Mario Gotze's goal opened the floodgates of drama, as Ghana's Andre Ayew -- for the second time this World Cup -- found an equalizer mere minutes after.
Ghana, which played so well in response to its 2-1 loss to the USA, kept its foot on the gas, and Asamoah Gyan finished with aplomb to become the first African player to score in three World Cups and seemingly put the Black Stars on their way to a tremendous result. That is, until Miroslav Klose came off the bench and immediately did what he does best: Score goals. His tap home off a corner kick leveled the score at 2-2, and while both teams pushed for a winner -- including an atrociously executed, wasted counterattack from Ghana -- the sides each took a point from the match, which had ramifications for the USA and Portugal.
Here are three thoughts on the thrilling contest:
Germany is not invincible
Despite being stacked with talent, most notably in the attacking midfield positions, this German squad feels curiously like a work in progress. The movement, pace and skill of Mesut Ozil, Gotze & Co. can make the head spin. Even with Thomas Muller’s remarkable World Cup goalscoring exploits, the team’s only true penalty box predator is the aging Klose, meaning all that bewitching approach play can often amount to not much at all.
That was the story here. After the first quarter of an hour, for example, Germany had enjoyed 63 percent of possession - yet Ghana could claim the game’s best two shots. Germany’s front line of Gotze, Muller and Ozil has a pleasing flexibility to it, and both here and against Portugal the three continually changed position to create space and keep the Ghana defense on its toes. Even though goalkeeper Fatawu Dauda was busy, until Gotze’s scuffed second-half header there were few moments of true panic for the goalkeeper or the defenders in front of him. In the end it took Klose to come off the bench and salvage a point for Germany – and in doing so join Ronaldo as the World Cup’s all-time top-scorer with 15. It was noticeable that as soon as Klose took the field, Germany’s crosses seemed to acquire more zip.
The picture is no rosier in defense, where neither Benedikt Hoewedes nor Jerome Boateng look comfortable against nippy, skillful runners – though Boateng shackled Cristiano Ronaldo admirably a few days before this game. Coach Joachim Low must wish he could clone Philipp Lahm and play the influential holding midfielder in both his current and former position. Here, Ghana identified the flanks as potentially fertile ground from the outset, and looked dangerous whenever Gyan or Ayew were given a chance to run at the German defense. If Jurgen Klinsmann is in the mood to gamble, Julian Green’s pace could be a potent weapon against Low’s team in Recife in a few days’ time.
Things got worse during Ghana’s thrilling second-half purple patch, as first the diminutive Ayew out-jumped Shkodran Mustafi to equalize, and then Gyan raced away to score. For a 10-minute spell the German defense looked almost chaotic as Ghana broke free again and again – food for thought for the U.S. players and coaches.
Heat is becoming a factor
Even though three-quarters of the players at this World Cup ply their trade amidst relatively equitable climatic conditions in Europe, there is no doubt that the extreme heat in some Brazilian host cities is affecting the playing styles and performances of different teams in different ways. The first nine days of the tournament have seen a number of limp performances from sides used to chillier climes, such as Uruguay, who prepared for the World Cup in frigid Montevideo, against Costa Rica in Fortaleza, and Italy, against the same team in sweltering Recife.
Without wishing to detract from Ghana’s stirring performance here, the heat – still in the 80s at kickoff – was clearly a factor early on. Germany is a team built on speed and movement, and especially during an often soporific first-half, appeared leaden-footed. Ghana was happy to take advantage, blocking the opposition’s route from the back into midfield and keeping the pace slow.
Only when the temperature subsided and the game opened up during an exhilarating, madcap second half did Ghana show the vibrancy it had displayed against the U.S., or did Germany attack with their customary venom. The heat at both the U.S.’s next two games, against Portugal in Manaus and Germany in Recife, will be intense. Much will depend on how the players, and Klinsmann’s tactics, can deal with the conditions.
Group G is open and unpredictable
Klinsmann was brazenly honest to say the USA won’t win the World Cup. But that is not to say that the team will not go far. This most memorable of World Cups has thrown up a number of delightful surprises already, most notably Costa Rica’s preeminence in a group that contains three former World Cup winners.
Everywhere one looks there are courageous, inspiring performances from so-called rank outsiders – such as Iran almost holding Argentina to a stunning draw, until Lionel Messi had his say, earlier Saturday. Ghana’s display against group favorite Germany, for example, was far more spirited than Portugal’s messy capitulation against the same team five days ago. A U.S. win over Portugal Sunday would put Klinsmann’s side top of the group and into the knockout stage, but regardless of the result in Manaus, this group is going to go down to its final day.
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