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Team USA faces Ghana in first game of World Cup
For the United States to take a giant step forward in the World Cup, the Americans will have to exorcise some ghosts of the past.
Team USA kicks off its tournament at 6 p.m. Monday in Group G against its nemesis Ghana, which has eliminated the Americans in the past two World Cups.
The U.S. players claim they won't be seeking revenge, but instead playing for World Cup survival at Arena das Dunas.
They downplayed those last two losses that led to their elimination, 2-1 results at the 2006 and 2010 Cups.
"Not a word's been spoken," said goalkeeper Tim Howard, one of four Americans still on the team who played in that 2010 game. "That was four years ago, ancient history. This is a different team with a different mind-set."
Midfielder Michael Bradley and forwards Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore also were teammates who tasted defeat in South Africa.
"There's no revenge factor," Howard added. "That's not what's motivating us."
Ghana captain Asamoah Gyan, however, had a different take. "It's going to be going for revenge," he said. "They don't want us to beat them for a third time."
But there are other motivating factors.
Both teams desperately need a win and three points if they have any chance of getting out of what has been called the Group of Death that includes Germany and Portugal, who face each other Monday.
A loss or a draw would surely torpedo the Americans' hopes of securing a spot in the Round of 16. The Americans will play Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal on June 22 and Germany on June 26.
"It's a fresh slate, an opportunity to prove to the rest of the world that you're a quality side," Dempsey said. "If we play to the best of our ability, we have the quality that we can go far in this tournament."
With the USA playing in its seventh consecutive World Cup, there are greater expectations. With all the pressure, Bradley is looking forward to the challenge.
"It's still up to us when we step onto the field tomorrow to give everything and to enjoy the moment, to relish the opportunity of playing in the World Cup, of representing . . . our country," he said. "It's clear as the game continues to grow in our country, so do the expectations. We all welcome that. We welcome the pressure of playing in a World Cup. We know it won't be easy."
Both teams hardly left anything for the other side to pounce on. Ghana coach Stephen Keshi, however, said that "Ghana is a more talented team," although he quickly added that "the U.S. is a good side and a dangerous team."
This east coast city, which has a reputation for 300 sunny days a year, has been besieged with rain the past few days. It has caused mudslides. Forecasts call for no rain at game time.
"No matter what the circumstances are, no matter how a game goes, this group is ready to go the extra mile to make it happen tomorrow and get them started with a win," USA coach Jurgen Klinsmann said.