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World Cup roundup: Americans claim opener

06/16/2014 11:42 PM ET
By Grant Tunkel

John Brooks broke a 1-1 tie late, claiming the game-winning goal in the United States' win over Ghana on Monday.(AP)
John Brooks and Graham Zusi didn't start Monday's match in Natal. They certainly finished it.

Brooks headed Zusi's 86th-minute corner kick into the back of the net to give the United States a 2-1 victory over Ghana. The win propelled the U.S. into second place in the Group of Death, and put them in fine position moving forward in group play.

The 20-year-old Brooks was pressed into service at the beginning of the second half, a result of Matt Besler suffering from hamstring tightness after the opening 45 minutes. Zusi came on in the 77th minute, the last of the Americans' three substitutions and the only one not necessitated by injury.

Both of head coach Jurgen Klinsmann's decisions proved to be the right ones as the substitutes helped the U.S. finally push past Ghana.

Monday's match began in wild fashion, with the United States taking the lead just a half-minute in. Clint Dempsey made an angled run toward the top-left corner of the box and dribbled past a Ghanaian defender. The American forward put a perfectly placed left-footed shot into the far side and sent the red, white and blue into pandemonium.

But the joy was tempered about 20 minutes later. Dempsey's strike partner, Jozy Altidore, pulled up with a hamstring injury. Altidore was chasing a long ball down the left side of the pitch when he suffered the injury, which forced his removal from the match and the entrance of Aron Johansson.

Shortly thereafter, Ghana took control of the contest and pressured the American goal. Tim Howard and the back four stood tall deep into the second half. The Black Stars, however, broke through in the 82nd minute.

Captain Asamoah Gyan laid a pass off to Andre Ayew, who used the outside of his left-foot to beat Howard and equalize. The goal seemed to take the air out of the American side, with momentum squarely in the Ghanaians corner.

Then came Brooks' moment to shine.

The statistics favored Ghana in a number of categories: 21-8 in shot attempts, 8-7 in shots on goal and 59-41 in possession. But the young American defender delivered the winning goal.

Now, the U.S. must take stock of its injury situation as it prepares for Portugal on Sunday. Ghana is left to regroup against Germany.

In other Monday action…

Germany 4, Portugal 0: The Group G opener was a one-sided affair that saw Thomas Müller record a hat trick to move Germany to the top of the table.

Müller opened the scoring by converting a penalty in the 12th minute. He added a strike from about 10 yards in first-half stoppage time, then capped his masterful afternoon by banging home from close range after keeper Rui Patricio spilled a shot.

For Portugal, the scoreline was only part of the story. Hugo Almeida and Fabio Coentrao left with injuries. Defensive stalwart Pepe will miss the Portuguese's match with the United States after he was sent off in the 37th minute for headbutting Müller.

Nigeria 0, Iran 0: The World Cup's first draw was of the goalless variety, with Nigeria and Iran securing a point each in Group F.

The Super Eagles enjoyed the bulk of the possession and pushed for the breakthrough goal in the second half. Newcastle United forward Shola Ameobi came on in the 52nd minute in an attempt to give the side additional skill. But Iran stayed the course and prevented Nigeria from scoring. The Iranians will take on group-leading Argentina on Saturday, and Nigeria will play Bosnia and Herzegovina.

A look ahead to Tuesday's action…

Noon, Belgium vs. Algeria: On paper, Tuesday's opening match is a lopsided contest. Belgium boasts some of the World Cup's best talent, including Chelsea star Eden Hazard and Manchester United young gun Adnan Januzaj. Algeria are Group H underdogs, having squeaked past Burkina Faso in a home-and-home set to reach Brazil. The Algerians enter as the No. 22 team in FIFA's world rankings.

3 p.m., Brazil vs. Mexico: Group A's top two teams square off in Fortaleza as the second wave of group-stage matches begins Tuesday afternoon. With both Brazil and Mexico having secured three points in their first match, a victory by either side would all but guarantee qualification to the knockout stage of the tournament.

The hosts looked a bit unsettled during their opener vs. Croatia, allowing an own goal before Neymar's brace restored order. Brazil is no stranger to World Cup pressure, which is ratcheted up at home. That won't stop against Mexico, who squeaked past Cameroon on a soggy day in Natal. Expectations are always high for El Tri, and the victory likely calmed some nerves. Perhaps Mexico, as the underdog, can play a freer style and steal a point -- or three.

6 p.m., Russia vs. South Korea: The Russians haven't qualified for the World Cup since 2002, whereas South Korea are in the final 32 for the eighth consecutive tournament.

Both nations had stellar qualifying campaigns. Russia lost just twice in 10 matches and haven't dropped an international since losing to Northern Ireland in Belfast in mid-August. South Korea suffered only three defeats in 14 qualifying tilts.

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