RUSTENBURG, South Africa - The nail-biter comeback wasn't there this time. The U.S. soccer team relied on it once too often.

Life on the World Cup edge came to an exhausting and crushing end against a familiar foe last night when Ghana - led by Asamoah Gyan's goal three minutes into overtime - posted a 2-1 victory that ended a thrilling yet futile tournament for the United States.

"We tried to push and push," U.S. captain Carlos Bocanegra said. "I don't know if we just didn't have anything left because we had been pushing so much the entire tournament."

In the first-ever extra-time World Cup game for the U.S. team, Gyan got the winner when he took a long ball from Andre Ayew over the defense and beat Bocanegra, his teammate on the French club Rennes. Gyan let the ball bounce and took a touch with his chest, and with Jay DeMerit vainly trying to catch up, he scored over goalkeeper Tim Howard with a left-footed shot from 16 yards. "I had my angles right there. There's no question about it," Howard said. "He absolutely crushed it."

The closest the United States came to tying it again was in the 98th minute, when Maurice Edu's header off Landon Donovan's corner kick went wide.

With Howard pushed up, DeMerit's desperation long shot in the final minutes went over the crossbar. Then Clint Dempsey sent a header wide.

At the final whistle, Howard consoled Bocanegra and Edu collapsed to the ground. Donovan exchanged jerseys with a Ghana player, walked off the field, sat on the bench and hung his head.

"If we're a little less naive tonight, we would have advanced," said Donovan, who at 28 is in his prime and the best American player ever. "I said all along this was a young team and a relatively inexperienced team at this level. Soccer can be a cruel game. Sometimes you're at the top and sometimes you are at the bottom of the mountain."

Kevin-Prince Boateng put Ghana ahead when he stripped the ball from Ricardo Clark in the fifth minute and beat Howard from 16 yards. It was the third time in four games that Team USA fell behind early. But the Americans rallied again.

Donovan tied the score with a penalty kick in the 62nd minute, his U.S.-record fifth goal in World Cup play, after Jonathan Mensah pulled down Dempsey streaking in. But that was it.

Unlike the first-round come-from-behind draws against England and Slovenia, and Donovan's memorable injury-time goal against Algeria that lifted the United States into the knockout phase, there was no offense left. Team USA failed to take advantage of a relatively easy path to the semifinals.

Ghana, the only African team to advance past the first round of Africa's first World Cup, eliminated the Americans for the second straight World Cup. The Black Stars joined Cameroon (1990) and Senegal (2002) as the only African teams to reach the quarterfinals and will play Uruguay for a berth in the semifinals, a round the United States has not reached since the first World Cup in 1930.

"A stinging, tough defeat," said Bob Bradley, who faces an uncertain future as U.S. coach.

With former President Bill Clinton watching and Mick Jagger sitting next to him, the U.S. team was done in by a porous defense and forwards who failed to score a single goal in four games. "When you give up this many goals, you're not going to go very far," Bocanegra said.

All five U.S. goals in the tournament came from the team's midfield backbone: three by Donovan, one by Dempsey and one by Michael Bradley, the coach's son.

More soccer news

SUBSCRIBE

Unlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months

ACT NOWSALE ENDS SOON | CANCEL ANYTIME