2014 World Cup: Ghana's opponents USA defeat Azerbaijan 2-0 in friendly
Ghana’s World Cup group opponents the United States kicked off preparations for the FIFA World Cup with a 2-0 victory over Azerbaijan at Candlestick Park on Tuesday night.
Substitutes Mikkel Diskerud and Aron Johannsson found the back of the net in the second half as the USA emerged triumphant in San Francisco – the first of their three international friendlies before Brazil 2014.
With the match seemingly petering out to a draw, Norwegian-born Diskerud came off the bench to break the deadlock in the 75th minute after Michael Bradley’s effort was cleared off the line and Johannsson made sure of the win, heading home from close range just six minutes later.
The result spared Jurgen Klinsmann’s blushes following his decision to overlook the USA’s all-time leading scorer Landon Donovan for his final 23-man squad.
It also extended their unbeaten streak on home soil to 14 games, having not lost in the USA since their 4-2 defeat to Belgium in a friendly last May, while Azerbaijan are 10 matches without a win on the road.
With Klinsmann coming up against Azerbaijan coach Berti Vogts it was always going to be an interesting affair with his fellow German also working as a special advisor for the USA ahead of the World Cup.
And the match provided some decent highlights early on as both teams were presented with opportunities to hit the front during a free-flowing start, though the USA undoubtedly had the best chance.
Graham Zusi whipped in a free-kick from the right after Fabian Johnson was fouled in the third minute, but an unmarked Chris Wondolowski, who was a late replacement for injured captain Clint Dempsey, could only guide his diving header straight at Azerbaijan goalkeeper Kamran Agayev .
Tim Howard was then called into action three minutes later, with star man Vagif Javadov, Azerbaijan’s second highest all-time leading goalscorer with nine goals in 51 games, unleashing from distance.
The visiting team continued to cause the USA problems and they again come close to breaking the deadlock in the 12th minute after Mahir Shukurov’s free-kick clipped the outside of the post.
Up the other end, Wondolowski was in the thick of the action and he almost redeemed himself, though his 15th-minute header was tipped over for a corner.
As the half wore on, the home side began to assert their dominance without making it count on the scoreboard as the game remained level at the interval.
The USA were unfortunate not to be awarded a penalty just two minutes into the second half after substitute Brad Davis appeared to be fouled inside the area, but the referee only whistled for a free-kick.
And just as the USA appeared to run out of ideas, the introduction of Diskerud proved to be a stroke of genius with 15 minutes remaining.
The 23-year-old, a replacement for Alejandro Bedoya, reacted quickest to scramble the ball past Agayev.
Klinsmann’s men then made sure of the win six minutes later courtesy of yet another substitute Johannsson, who found himself unmarked in the area to head home Davis’ cross from close range.
The USA will face Turkey on Sunday and Nigeria (June 7) the following week before flying out to Brazil.