United States' John Brooks, centre, celebrates after scoring his side's second goal during the group G World Cup soccer match between Ghana and the United States at the Arena das Dunas in Natal, Brazil, Monday, June 16, 2014. The United States won the match 2-1. (AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan)

(ESPN) NATAL, Brazil — It is easy to forget, for all its breathlessness about love and unity, that the World Cup is a zero-sum game. That hard fact is especially easy to forget when you win. At Monday night’s game between the U.S. and Ghana, one large Ghanaian section had danced and swayed and sung from the opening touch. They had continued their celebration uninterrupted even through halftime, even after John Brooks had scored his late and improbable goal. They had remained buoyant and hopeful until the final whistle brought ecstasy to Philadelphia and Salt Lake City and Santa Fe, and at last silence to them. The game hadn’t been a must-win only for the Americans.

For so many reasons, Ghana needed this. In 2010 in South Africa, one of the most memorable games of that tournament had ended in a terrible Ghanaian defeat in the quarterfinal against Uruguay. It’s hard to describe the feeling of that night now, four years later. It wasn’t just one section of the stadium in Johannesburg that had danced and swayed and sung. It felt as though the building itself had been moving as one. Ghana was Africa’s last great hope — had felt destined to become the first African team to reach the World Cup’s final four, and on African soil. Then Luis Suarez stopped what would have been the winning goal with his hands, and Asamoah Gyan’s penalty smashed against the crossbar.


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