There was no glory for the United States at this year's World Cup, only frustration and failure.
The Americans were eliminated in the first round, losing to Ghana 2-1 Thursday in a game they had to win to advance to the tournament's knockout phase.
With thousands of red, white and blue-clad fans cheering them on in Franken-Stadion, the Americans fell flat against a Black Stars team that was stronger and faster. Surprising Ghana advanced along with Italy from Group E.
It was a bitter ending for the United States, which carried high hopes — and a No. 5 world ranking from FIFA — onto soccer's biggest stage. Four years ago, the Americans made the quarterfinals of the World Cup.
Haminu Draman put the Africans ahead in the 22nd minute, breaking in alone on goalkeeper Kasey Keller after colliding with Claudio Reyna, who crumpled to the ground in pain.
The United States, which has never won a World Cup game in which it trailed, tied it when Clint Dempsey scored in the 43rd minute with a smashing 10-yard shot off a perfect feed from DaMarcus Beasley. But Ghana captain Stephen Appiah converted a penalty kick in the second minute of first-half injury time after American defender Oguchi Onyewu was called for a foul in the penalty area.
Eddie Johnson entered in the 61st minute as the United States pressed, and Brian McBride nearly tied it again in the 66th, but his diving header inside the 6-yard box clanked off the near post. A minute later, Onyewu sent a header off Landon Donovan's corner kick just over the crossbar.
In order to advance, the Americans needed a victory and some help. They got the needed assistance when Italy defeated the Czech Republic 2-0 in a game played simultaneous in Hamburg. But the United States (0-2-1) didn't come through and finished the tournament with one point — its first in a World Cup played in Europe, but not enough to escape the basement in Group E.
Italy (2-0-1) won the group with seven points and Ghana (2-1), making its first World Cup appearance, advanced with six points.
Four years ago, the Americans became heroes with their best showing since 1930. But this time, in what probably marked the final World Cup appearances of Reyna, McBride and perhaps Keller, they reverted to their form of 1998 in France, when they finished last overall.
U.S. fans outnumbered the Ghanaians dressed in red, yellow and green, both in the cobblestone streets of Nuremberg's old town before the game and in the historic ballpark where Hitler Youth marched seven decades ago.
With Eddie Pope and Pablo Mastroeni suspended, the Americans used Jimmy Conrad to replace Pope at central defender and Reyna shifted back to Mastroeni's defensive midfield role. Beasley joined Donovan in the center of the midfield and Eddie Lewis, who started the opener at left back, took over in left midfield — his more familiar position — from Bobby Convey.
Draman scored after Dempsey played a back pass to Reyna, and the U.S. captain collided with the Ghanaian left knee to left knee. As Reyna fell, Draman took possession and rushed in one-on-one against Keller, putting the ball onto his right foot and sending it into the corner of the net beyond the diving goalkeeper from 10 yards.
Reyna was taken off the field on a stretcher, grimacing, but returned in the 26th minute, just about the time Italy went ahead of the Czechs. Still looking pained, he was replaced by Ben Olsen in the 40th minute and went to the bench, where the knee was wrapped.
Donovan, who failed to score after getting two World Cup goals as a 20 year old in 2002, had a great chance to tie it in the 35th. He had an open shot after Brian McBride dropped a header for him, but got under the ball and his volley attempt went way high — with U.S. coach Bruce Arena looking disgusted in front of the bench.
Dempsey then tied it.
Beasley, along the left flank just past midfield, battled Derek Boateng and John Pantsil and stole the ball. After a short run, Beasley sent a pinpoint left-footed cross in front of the goal. Racing ahead of Habib Mohamed, Dempsey one-timed the ball with his right foot from about 12 yards.
It was the first goal by a U.S. player in the World Cup in 338 minutes. Dempsey did his rap dance as Americans celebrated.
But moments later, the Americans fell behind again. For good.
Onyewu pushed down Razak Pimpong in the penalty area battling for a header, and Germany's Markus Merk — one of the world's top-rated officials — immediately pointed to the penalty spot as Arena buried his face in his hands. Keller dived left, but Appiah put the ball high to the goalkeeper's right.
Arena kept on talking in the referee's direction until an assistant coach pulled him away.
In Hamburg, substitute Marco Materazzi headed in a corner kick in the 26th minute to help Italy win Group E with a 2-0 victory over the Czechs and likely avoid a second-round matchup with Brazil.
Materazzi scored his first goal in 29 appearances with the national team and Filippo Inzaghi added a score on a breakaway in the 87th minute for Italy, which won the group with seven points.
"We played some good games and then also with the Czech Republic, which is also a good team that did not want to go home," Italy coach Marcello Lippi said.
The Czechs fell behind early when the 6-foot-5 Materazzi outleaped Jan Polak and Radoslav Kovac to head in a corner kick by Francesco Totti less than 10 minutes after replacing an injured Alessandro Nesta.
They were reduced to 10 men when midfielder Jan Polak picked up his second yellow card in first-half injury time and were unable to penetrate Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, who made several strong saves.
"We had to play twice against strong opponents with only 10 men," Czech coach Karel Bruckner said. "It was almost impossible. We were troubled by a number of problems including our own mistakes."
Italy will face the second-place team from Group F on Monday in Kaiserslautern. Brazil leads the group with six points and can clinch first place with a draw Thursday night against Japan.
The Czechs pressed early on and Milan Baros, returning from a left foot injury, nearly connected on an excellent crossfield setup from Pavel Nedved in the ninth minute.
Buffon had to lunge to his left to stop an 18-yard shot by Nedved in the 12th. A few minutes later, Nedved intercepted a pass and sent the ball upfield to Baros, who earned a corner kick after a physical battle with Nesta, who rarely loses such duels.
Nedved sent another shot on goal from just outside the area in the 16th minute that Buffon stopped but couldn't quite gather, and the goalkeeper also had to block an attempt on the rebound from AC Milan's Marek Jankulovski.
Gennaro Gattuso's long header landed on top of the net for Italy's first shot in the 25th minute and Italy took the lead with its first shot on goal a minute later.
Polak received his first yellow for a foul on Mauro Camoranesi in the 35th, then fouled Totti from behind for his second card.
Italy took the initiative at the start of the second half, with two shots early by Totti. Nedved then got the ball on the counterattack and put a powerful shot on goal that Buffon punched away.
In the 56th minute, Italy showed off its skill on a free kick. Totti lofted the ball to Andrea Pirlo, who volleyed it to Fabio Cannavaro, who shot high.
Inzaghi got his first playing time of this World Cup when he replaced Alberto Gilardino in the 60th.
Buffon had to punch away another long attempt by Nedved in the 70th.