Captain Clint Dempsey of the Seattle Sounders staked the United States to a 1-0 lead 34 seconds into the match. Following a Ghana equalizer in the 82nd minute, 21-year-old, little-known substitute John Brooks headed in the winner in the 86th, giving the USA a dramatic 2-1 victory in its opening match in the World Cup Monday in Natal, Brazil.
Seemingly headed for a draw after Ghana’s Andre Ayew made it 1-1, the USA instead collected three points to forge a tie with Germany, a 4-0 winner over Portugal, atop the Group G standings.
The victory was only the second for the USA in an opening match in the World Cup, the first in 2002. And it came against the team that had ousted it from the previous two World Cups.
Dempsey, appearing in his third World Cup, weaved past two players in the box and sent a left-footed shot off a feed from Jermaine Jones to the right post past spreadeagled goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey.
It was the fastest goal in this year’s World Cup and the sixth fastest in tourney history. Dempsey, with 38 career goals for the U.S. National Team, became the first USA player to score in three World Cups.
After that, it was all Ghana. The USA, plagued by hamstring injuries to Jozy Altidore and Matt Besler that forced both from the match, weathered a fierce assault for more than 80 minutes before the unlikely Brooks decided it with a header following a corner kick by Graham Zusi. Brooks’ goal was the first by a substitute in U.S history.
Ghana besieged the USA with 21 shots, including eight on goal, and held possession for 59 percent of the match. The USA had eight shots, seven on goal.
“We have a great spirit. The U.S. team always has a great spirit and fights until the last second,” said U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsman. “This was a grind, but a wonderful grind and a wonderful win at the end of the day. We had problems keeping the ball, but this was what we expected. We got the three points that we badly wanted and we now we can move on.”
Dempsey labored much of the match following his goal. In the 31st minute, Ghana’s John Boyle kicked him in the face, bloodying Dempsey’s nose. Dempsey played the rest of the half with cotton in his nose, and he struggled for air in the second half, when Ghana amped up its attack.
Sulley Muntari and Asamoah Gyan both nearly scored in the 56th minute and Gyan nearly tallied in the 58th, USA goalkeeper Tim Howard tipping his header away.
The only faster World Cup goals than Dempsey’s were by Turkey’s Hakan Suker (11 seconds against South Korea in 2002), Czechoslovakia’s Vaclav Masek (16 seconds against Mexico in 1962), Germany’s Ernst Lehner (25 seconds against Austria in 1934) and England’s Bryan Robson (27 seconds against France in 1982).
DeAndre Yedlin, the second Sounders player on the USA roster, did not get into the match.
The USA will play Portugal Sunday at 3 p.m., PT in Manaus.