NATAL, Brazil -- It began with the magical. It ended with the miraculous.
John Brooks, a 21-year-old German American making his competitive debut for the United States who was on the field only because a starting fullback was hurt, powered a fierce header into the net in the 86th minute Monday night to lift the Americans over Ghana 2-1 in their World Cup opener.
Afterward, Brooks said he dreamed nearly the exact situation two nights ago, the only difference being that in his imagination, he scored in the 80th minute. He did not seem particularly bothered by reality’s six-minute delay.
“It was my first dream,” he said softly, “hopefully not my last.”
Brooks’ header capped an emotional match. It opened with exuberance by the Americans after Clint Dempsey scored 29 seconds into play – the fifth-fastest goal in World Cup history. About 80 minutes of nervy, anxious nail-biting followed as the United States lost two key players to injury and Ghana pounded at the U.S. goal. Then came a few moments of disappointment after Ghana tied the score. And finally, there was Brooks, rising to meet Graham Zusi’s corner kick to give the United States an upset victory in the Group G match.
“The response after they scored was really good,” midfielder Michael Bradley said. “You looked around and still felt like there was more in it.”
Said defender Matt Besler: “The feelings are just incredible.”
It was that way from the start. Moments after kickoff, Dempsey saw a pass come his way and let it run, stepping over the ball with his foot before tapping it forward with the inside of his right heel. The ball now in front of him, Dempsey bore in on the goal.
One Ghana player ran across him. Then another. Dempsey cut to the inside and, with a quick finish, sent the ball past goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey and in off the post.
“I saw that there was space,” Dempsey said, “and I just tried to hit it as hard as I could.”
But the Americans could not maintain their pace. Most of the rest of the game was maddening for the United States as Ghana bossed the ball around the field. Frustration turned to sadness, too, when Jozy Altidore, one of coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s top strikers, strained his left hamstring in the 21st minute.
“I was crushed,” said Altidore, whose status for the rest of the tournament wasn’t immediately known. “I knew right away I couldn’t continue. It was the worst feeling.”
Things did not improve for the Americans as the minutes passed. Kyle Beckerman was floored by a brutal elbow to the head from Mohammed Rabiu (who was cautioned). Dempsey suffered a broken nose after taking a shin to the face from John Boye but played the rest of the match despite struggling to breathe through his nose and coughing up some blood.
Alejandro Bedoya looked bothered by a leg injury, and so did Besler, one of the two starting central defenders. With Ghana controlling possession and pushing, Klinsmann did not want to risk a gimpy defense, so he pulled Besler at halftime. Brooks was the replacement.
The U.S. back line held off Ghana until the 82nd minute, when Andre Ayew beat goalkeeper Tim Howard at the near post from close range.
Deflated as the Americans may have been, they knew a tie would still be a good result. Yet Brooks wanted more. And when Zusi’s corner kick swung in, Brooks met the ball ferociously, blasting it down and bouncing it past Kwarasey.
Brooks sprinted toward the corner flag and collapsed as if in a daze, then pounded his hands into the ground.
“If you score after just one minute,” Klinsmann said, “you think there can’t be anything better than that.”
But there was.