x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Arise John Anthony Brooks, America’s new football hero

He has already seen his Wikipedia entry updated to include a line proclaiming him the 'the greatest American since Abraham Lincoln'. Such hyperbole is humorous, but beating Ghana is no mean feat.

John Brooks celebrates USA's winning goal against Ghana, with a little hint of disbelief. Carlos Barria / Reuters
John Brooks celebrates USA's winning goal against Ghana, with a little hint of disbelief. Carlos Barria / Reuters

NATAL // American football fans have a new hero and his name is John Anthony Brooks. Born in Berlin, the 21 year-old plays in the German Bundesliga and is one of USA coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s foreign-legion; one of the young players in a World Cup squad selected with a long-sighted eye on 2018. Before last night’s match with Ghana, he had never been capped in an official international match.

Yet after coming off the bench to head an 86th minute winner at Arena das Dunas and give the USA a crucial 2-1 victory, today his image will surely appear in the sports section of every American newspaper. He has already seen his Wikipedia entry updated to include a line proclaiming him the “the greatest American since Abraham Lincoln”.

Such hyperbole is humorous, but beating Ghana is no mean feat. The Africans have eliminated the United States from the past two World Cups and having been placed in a group that also includes Germany and Portugal, a victory was essential if either side had any intention of progressing to the knockout stages.

Clint Dempsey wasted no time giving the Americans an advantage, showing quick feet to slot home after just 31 seconds and score the fifth quickest goal in World Cup history. However, the US visibly tired in the second half and conceded with only eight minutes remaining through Ghanaian playmaker Andre Ayew. Yet if there is one constant in the US soccer team it is immense mental strength. Four minutes later, Brooks rose highest at a corner and nodded down and into the net.

His celebration — disbelieving eyes, determinedly failing to stay calm, throwing himself flat on the grass — suggested he was as surprised as anybody with what had just happened. “I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “I just ran in the box and hoped that the ball would hit my head and it did.”

Brooks stands 6-foot four-inches tall and plays centre-back for Hertha Berlin. Klinsmann said that when Matt Besler complained of a sore hamstring at half time, he had no reservations about giving the young rookie his debut. The coach has received plenty of criticism for leaving veteran forward Landon Donovan at home this summer in favour of blooding youth, but performances such as Brooks’ strengthen the German’s hand.

“John came in, played in his first World Cup game and scored in it, so it is quite a special day for him,” Klinsmann added. “We always try to read players coming through the youth system and breaking into teams wherever they play. With John, we saw very early on that his passing is amazing, he is very calm for his age, he is obviously strong in the air because he is so tall, he is confident and he rarely makes fouls because of his positioning. We had the feeling he was ready for us.”

Ready, he was.

The USA now share the top spot in Group G with Germany, who had earlier beaten 10-man Portugal 4-0. Klinsmann’s side next travel to the Amazon region to face Portugal, who will be without the suspended Pepe. “They will be hurting,” the coach said. “They are going to come to Manaus angry. I don’t know how Cristiano Ronaldo plays when he is angry, but we are looking forward to it. We need to be prepared, but it is exciting.”

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae