Posted: Tuesday June 20, 2006 2:19PM; Updated: Thursday June 22, 2006 1:55AM
Michael Essien has proven to be Ghana's most dangerous player.
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Grant Wahl will periodically answer questions from SI.com users in his mailbag.
HAMBURG, Germany -- Starting the day after the World Cup draw last September, U.S. manager Bruce Arena broke down the scouting duties for the Americans three first-round opponents. Assistant Glenn "Mooch" Myernick took the Czech Republic, Arena would handle Italy and the job for Ghana fell to assistant Curt Onalfo.
It was no small task. Finding tape of Ghana's World Cup qualifiers took Onalfo on a wild odyssey that included help from a Ghanaian grocery distributor in Washington D.C. (more on that later). On Thursday, all the work might pay off. The only plausible scenario that would allow the U.S. to qualify for the second round requires that the Americans beat Ghana, while Italy beats the Czech Republic.
Keep an eye out on Wednesday for my preview of the game and what's at stake for U.S. soccer (as well as more responses to your Mailbag questions, which you can send in to the right).
For now, here's the conversation Onalfo and I had about the Ghana game at the U.S. team hotel on Tuesday:
SI.com: You've scouted Ghana quite a bit since the World Cup draw in December, right?
Onalfo: I've seen them play five times in person. I saw them play twice in the African Nations Cup. I saw them play against Mexico in Dallas, and I've seen them two times here in this World Cup.
They're a good team. The strength of the Ghanaians is their attack. When they have a full roster, they have what I would call four world-class attacking players. Two of them are out against us [Sulley Muntari and Asamoah Gyan, due to yellow-card suspensions]. Michael Essien is having a great tournament. He's shown that he's one of the best players in the world. He's a complete player. He can go forward, he can defend, he's just been outstanding. Right now he is the most influential player they have, end of story.
They have Stephen Appiah, who plays for Fenerbahçe in Turkey. He also played for Juventus in Italy. He's a great player. He plays an attacking midfield role. He's played centrally and wide right for them, but he pretty much has a free role. He's got a great shot from distance, he's excellent taking players on one-v.-one, and he's a good passer of the ball. Those are the two main guys now.
And they have an excellent forward in Matthew Amoah. He's a proven goal-scorer. He plays for Borussia Dortmund and had kind of a hard time finding his form there. But prior to going to Dortmund he played in Holland and did very well there.
They have a good attacking team, but we feel like we match up very well with them.