U.S. edges Ghana behind Brooks' late heroics

Natal, Brazil ( - The United States exorcised some major demons on Monday as John Anthony Brooks netted a late winner to hand the Americans a thrilling 2-1 victory over Ghana in Group G play at the Arena das Dunas.

Ghana had beaten the Americans in each of the past two World Cups, but Brooks played the role of unlikely hero to help his side go level with Germany atop the group.

Captain Clint Dempsey dealt the first blow of the match in record fashion as he scored in the first minute of play to give the Americans an early boost.

Officially clocked at just 34 seconds, it was the sixth fastest goal in World Cup history.

But it wasn't all good news for the United States as top-choice striker Jozy Altidore had to be subbed off the field with a hamstring strain, and defender Matt Besler was taken off at halftime with hamstring tightness.

Ghana scored the equalizer through Andre Ayew in the 82nd minute, but the Americans persevered and Brooks, who came on as a substitute for Besler, became the hero in spectacular fashion, scoring four minutes from time.

"This is definitely the start that we wanted," U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann said after the match. "They worked hard for it, and it feels nice to get the first three points."

Dempsey's goal got the U.S. off to a flying start as midfielder Jermaine Jones got the play started with a nice through ball to the feet of Dempsey on the left side of the penalty area. Dempsey turned his defender inside out and ripped a beautiful left-footed strike off the inside of the far post and in behind Ghana goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey.

Dempsey became the first American player to score in three different World Cups.

The tally gave the Americans a palpable boost, but the air seemed to be sucked out of the balloon a bit in the 23rd minute when Altidore went down along the left wing with no contact. Icelandic-American forward Aron Johannsson replaced Altidore and performed admirably.

Stunned by the early goal, the Ghanaians took a little while to get into the game, but created an excellent chance in the 31st minute when Asamoah Gyan ripped a low strike on goal, but American goalkeeper Tim Howard got down quickly to parry it away.

The Americans looked to have sustained another injury when Dempsey absorbed a high challenge from John Boye, which caused some significant damage to his face, but the captain stayed on the pitch.

"I think my nose is broken. I didn't consider coming off, I just wanted to go on for as long as I could, but I had trouble breathing," said Dempsey. "I was coughing up blood a little bit from the back of my throat, but I felt fine and that I could keep going."

The Ghanaians peppered the right side of the field, sending in cross after cross, but the American defense held up and took the 1-0 lead into the break.

In the second half, Ghana really took the game to the United States and dominated, playing almost the entire second half in the American end of the field, creating several quality scoring chances.

With the Americans pinned deep for so long, an equalizer seemed inevitable and it finally came eight minutes from time.

Juventus man Kwadwo Asamoah set the scoring play in motion for Ghana with a nice through ball down the left channel. Gyan ran onto the pass and back- heeled a beautiful pass into the path of Ayew, who smashed a strike past Howard to put the sides on level terms.

The goal gave Ghana incentive to go forward and grab the winner, but it was the Americans who carved out the winning tally in the 86th minute on a perfectly-executed set piece.

Substitute Graham Zusi, who came on in the 77th minute for Alejandro Bedoya, served a perfect corner kick into the box where Brooks got in front of his mark and headed the ball down and past Kwarasey for the 2-1 lead.

The fourth official's board showed five minutes of added time, giving Ghana time for a late equalizer, but the American defense held out for a marquee victory.

Klinsmann's men will continue their Group G campaign against Portugal in Manaus on Sunday, while Ghana will hope for a rebound effort against Germany on Saturday.

"All I can say is that it was a very tough game and when you play at this high level any little mistake can cost you dearly," said Ghana head coach James Kwesi Appiah. "We had a lot of the ball and created a lot of chances, but we didn't make the most of our chances, but USA took theirs. It's not going to be easy to qualify for the group, but we'll give everything to do just that. We're going to have to play well against Germany and I know we'll give them a good game."