After his team's 2-1 loss in its last game at the World Cup, U.S. coach Bruce Arena blamed the Americans' exit at the hands of a very beatable Ghanaian defense on the crucial penalty call awarded by
Markus Merk, widely considered to be one of the world's best referees. Center back Oguchi Onyewu was called for pushing down Razak Pimpong in the penalty area after a ball was played well behind the
Ghana striker; there was all kinds of pulling and shirt tugging between the two, but the ref deemed that Onyewu impeded on Pimpong's right to win the ball and awarded the spot kick, which was
converted easily by Steven Appiah. It was a clumsy challenge, to be sure, but not necessarily one you'd expect a ref to call in such a crucial match. "I think we'd all agree that wasn't a good call,"
Arena said. "I am disappointed in the judgment of the referee in the penalty call. We would have liked to come out at halftime even, with a chance to win the game. That was a big call." Later, he
added, "Those things happen, they happen a lot to our team." There can be little doubt that Merk's decision right before halftime took a lot of air out of the game, especially after Clint Dempsey had
only just tied it up, but the U.S., to be fair, didn't do enough to play itself back into the game. The second half saw Ghana stay tight and withstand a lot of U.S. pressure, but very little came of
it, save for a header off the goal post from Brian McBride and another header from Onyewu that went inches over the crossbar. Ghana, meanwhile, has qualified for the second round in the first World
Cup in its history. Barring a win this afternoon from Japan by several goals, the Ghanaians will play Brazil in the next round.
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