By Timothy Collings
RUSTENBURG (Reuters) - Ghana crushed American dreams and delivered African joy on Saturday when they beat the United States 2-1 after extra time of a thrilling contest to take their place in the World Cup quarter-finals.
Rising to the challenge of an emotion-charged evening, they carried their continent's hopes with pride and passion to become the third African nation ever to reach the last eight in the world's greatest soccer tournament.
Goals by thrusting midfielder Kevin Prince Boateng after just five minutes and then from striker Asamoah Gyan three minutes into added time carried them to victory after the ice-cool Landon Donovan had converted a second-half penalty to drag the spirited Americans back into a tumultuous match.
"I am the happiest man in the world," a delighted Gyan said. "We have made everyone proud -- not just Ghana, but all of Africa."
Ghana, who combined great enthusiasm with moments of sublime skill, now meet Uruguay at the Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg next Friday after emulating the feats of Cameroon (1990) and Senegal (2002) in reaching the quarter-finals.
Their achievement was greeted with a crescendo of blasting vuvuzuelas at the final whistle when players collapsed on the field amid wild scenes of unrestrained relief and bliss.
The sight of John Pantsil, with the flag of Ghana, and Samuel Inkoom, with that of South Africa, running laps of the stadium in front of a crowd that included former U.S. president Bill Clinton, FIFA president Sepp Blatter and South African local organizing committee chief Danny Jordaan, was a symbol of a memorable night.
The opening half, and the night, belonged to Ghana, who repeated the result of their only previous clash with the United States when they beat them by the same score in Germany four years ago.
"We gave away an early goal and put a lot into it to recover, but we were in that spot once too many times," admitted U.S. coach Bob Bradley. "Ghana are a talented team and I think that Milovan Rajevac has done a great job in organizing them."
Ghana started with steely aggression and swiftly went in front when Ricardo Clark lost possession in midfield.
Collecting in his own half, Boateng ran directly at the passive American defense, evading Clark's attempted recovery, and then turned Jay DeMerit before striking a low left-foot shot inside Tim Howard's right post.
It was a poor goal to concede and this time the Americans, who had come from behind twice in the group stage, struggled to recover.
Outnumbered in midfield, where Ghana had three central players to their two, they were swamped at times and Clark, in frustration, was cautioned before being withdrawn on the half hour.
A low shot from Robbie Findley, which Richard Kingson saved with his left leg, was their best effort in reply before Ghana, content to play on the break, went close to a second following another DeMerit error, but Howard dived to save from Kwadwo Asamoah.
Bradley reorganized his team for the second period, taking off the re-called Robbie Findley and sending on Benny Feilhaber in a switch that freed Clint Dempsey to rove behind Jozy Altidore.
This gave them parity in the tightly-contested central area and, after 47 minutes, almost an equalizer when Feilhaber's close-range shot was saved one-handed by Kingson.
Ghana began to lose their discipline and shape and it was no great surprise when Jonathan Mensah misjudged a tackle on Dempsey and brought him down to concede a penalty on the hour.
Donovan stepped up and steered his spot-kick high to Kingson's left as he went the other way. It was the first penalty they had been awarded at the World Cup since 1930.
Further chances came at both ends in normal time, when the Americans played with greater authority and Altidore, steering a low shot just wide after 80 minutes, almost snatched a winner.
Ghana hung on, but regrouped for extra time and regained the lead by punching another hole through the American defense. Chasing a clearance by Dede Ayew, Gyan shrugged off Carlos Bocanegra's challenge and ran clear of DeMerit to shoot over Howard.
The Americans refused to lie down, but it was a heavy blow to their morale and Ghana, despite looking naive and vulnerable at times, battled through as thick wisps of smoke from nearby bush-fires supplied a dramatic final backdrop.
(Editing by Kate Holton)