SUNDERLAND striker Jozy Altidore’s World Cup could be over.
The USA forward left the field on a stretcher with a hamstring strain in the first half of his side’s 2-1 win against Ghana last night.
Substitute John Brooks’ late header helped the States exact World Cup revenge in an entertaining Group G match.
The African side were looking to complete a hat-trick of World Cup wins over the Stars and Stripes, having beaten them 2-1 in both Germany and South Africa.
It had looked set to end in a draw after Clint Dempsey’s early strike was cancelled out by Andre Ayew, only for half-time replacement Brooks to head home in the 86th minute to secure Jurgen Kilnsmann’s side a win in Natal.
A month’s worth of rain had fallen in the city in the days leading up to the Group G encounter but the match went ahead at Estadio das Dunas, which witnessed the opening goal after just 29 seconds as Seattle Sounders midfielder Dempsey showed neat footwork before slotting home.
The goal was a sucker punch and one which left Ghana understandably stunned, with Altidore wasting a glorious chance to double the United States’ advantage with 19 minutes on the clock.
It proved to be the striker’s last contribution, as running down the flank he pulled up holding his hamstring and had to be taken off on a stretcher.
Christian Atsu curled a strike wide and former Sunderland forward Asamoah Gyan saw a fine effort saved by Tim Howard as Ghana finally began to come into a match which was halted when John Boye gave Dempsey a bloodied nose with a high boot.
Jordan Ayew spurned a great chance to level with a scuffed shot in first-half stoppage time and, when the teams emerged for the second half, Brooks replaced Matt Besler after the defender complained of tightness in his hamstring.
It was another injury blow to a USA side now under the cosh, with Atsu wasting a fine chance before Sulley Muntari sent a fizzing strike just wide from outside the box.
Gyan powered a close-range header over as they continued to up the ante, with the former Sunderland striker soon forcing Howard into action with another header on goal, this time from 18 yards.
Atsu, Gyan, Kevin Prince-Boateng and Kwadwo Asamoah all had efforts as Akwasi Appiah’s side continued their search for a leveller, which came eight minutes from time.
After a poor second-half showing, the USA could have no complaints as Gyan superbly back heeled into the path for Andre Ayew, who took a touch and fired home brilliantly with the outside of his boot.
It looked to secure a deserved point for Ghana, only for poor defending to render it meaningless as an unmarked Brooks headed home four minutes from time.
H Thomas Muller is getting used to hogging the limelight after moving on to eight World Cup goals in just seven finals appearances with a hat-trick against Portugal yesterday.
The Bayern Munich midfielder got Germany on their way to a 4-0 opening Group G fixture win with a penalty, and he said afterwards he did not feel the nerves at all as he stepped up to the spot.
“I’ve been involved in the last three major tournaments so I’m used to the pressure,” he said. “But to score three goals in one game - that’s pretty amazing, and the goals just got better and better.
“It’s fantastic, but the merit also goes to the rest of the team.”
Muller was nevertheless the absolute protagonist of a game which also saw his tangle with Portugal’s Pepe lead to the Real Madrid defender receiving a red card with the game still not fully decided at 2-0 in Germany’s favour.
“I just felt a blow from his fist, but I can’t really remember much of what happened after,” said Muller, who confronted his assailant verbally, but not physically to ensure his own name did not end up in the referee’s book.
The name of Cristiano Ronaldo was not scribbled in there, though, with the man expected to make the difference for the nation ranked fourth in the world against the one two places higher, unable to get his name in the goalscorer’s column.
Jerome Boateng, tasked with dealing with the Ballon d’Or winner, was delighted to come out on top of that personal battle, although he, like Muller, emphasised the triumph of the collective.
“We gave them hardly any room and we put them under a lot of pressure,” he said.
“It was a great team performance. Cristiano Ronaldo never even had a chance really.”
H Nigeria’s attacking threat fell flat as they were held to the first goalless draw of the 2014 World Cup in their Group F clash with Iran in Curitiba.
Stephen Keshi’s men started with Premier League stars including John Obi Mikel and Victor Moses but produced a performance riddled with errors and few clear-cut chances.
The Iranians, starting their fourth World Cup as one of the least fancied of all the finalists, arguably had the best chance when Reza Ghoochannejhad brought a fine save out of Nigerian keeper Vincent Enyeama in the 33rd minute.
Former Newcastle striker Shola Ameobi appeared for Nigeria as a 52nd minute substitute.