RUSTENBURG - Decked out in a blue U.S.A. jacket, Bill Clinton was in the house, rubbing elbows with Rolling Stones dinosaur Mick Jagger.
Not far away, Kobe Bryant sat in a VIP section, offering his support for Landon Donovan and the boys. So, too, were well-known journalists Wolf Blitzer and Katie Couric, on hand to hopefully enjoy what might be an historic night for American soccer.
Indeed, it was a virtual who’s who of the celebrity world that descended on this South African mining town some two hours northwest of Johannesburg Saturday to see if Team USA could get past Ghana into the quarter-finals of World Cup 2010.
Nice gesture, people.
But all the ex-presidents, gold-record recipients and NBA champions in the world weren’t about to overcome the will and determination of an entire continent on this night.
With all of Africa cheering on Ghana, its lone remaining participant in South Africa 2010, striker Asamoah Gyan made it a night to remember with a spectacular goal in the 93rd minute that gave Ghana a 2-1 victory in extra time, ending the Americans' World Cup dreams in the process.
Sorry Mick. You too, Kobe.
But this would be Ghana’s night.
There would be no miracle comebacks for the U.S. this time around. Not like the one 72 hours earlier when Donovan’s goal in injury time gave the U.S. a 1-0 victory over Algeria, sending them to the round of 16 and a date with Ghana.
As the final whistle tooted and the Americans realized their World Cup dream had ended, many dropped to their knees, some with tears in their eyes.
“Soccer can be a cruel game,” said Donovan, who has become the face of the U.S. team thanks to his penchant for late-game dramatics. “Sometimes you are at the top. And sometimes you’re at the bottom of the mountain.”
In the three days leading up to the Ghana match, Donovan knew what it was like to be in the penthouse. When one of his teammates flicked on the tube the other day, there was New York Mets third baseman David Wright, on the TV screen, wearing a Landon Donovan jersey.
Now here it was, game day, with a chance to step into the final eight, and the likes of Mick and Kobe and The Ex-Prez were on hand to watch Donovan and his teammates do battle. They really were on centre stage. Back home, millions more were glued to their television sets, producing viewership numbers that were guaranteed to make the ABC/ESPN execs drool.
Donovan would give them all reason to cheer, converting a penalty in the 63rd minute that tied the game 1-1. His third goal in four games offset a fifth-minute score by Ghana’s Kevin-Prince Boateng that had put the Africans up early.
That was the score after 90 minutes, meaning the two teams prepared for another two 15-minute halves.
Cue Gyan’s heroics.
“This is a terrific group and we’re proud,” U.S. coach Bob Bradley said. “We’re also disappointed we couldn’t take it further.
“A stinging tough defeat. We knew Ghana was a good team and we didn’t get the job done.”
They didn’t get it done because they frittered away chance after chance on Ghana goalkeeper Richard Kingson, allowing the Africans to stay in the game.
They didn’t get it done because they allowed the first goal again, something they did in three of the four matches here.
And they didn’t get it done because Gyan was somehow able to outmuscle a defender, take a couple of steps, then rip home The Goal Heard ‘Round the Continent.
The only time in four games the Americans led in this tournament was at the end of the Algeria game. Coming from behind all the time definitely takes its toll on you.
As for Ghana, they will now face Uruguay in the quarter-finals. Earlier in the day, Uruguay defeated South Korea 2-1 to advance.
For Landon Donovan and co., meanwhile, the Cinderella ride is over. The clock finally struck midnight.
But what a wonderful dramatic, albeit early-ending ride it was, wasn’t it?