Ghana carry hope of Africa
Ghana emulated their feats at the 2006 world cup by qualifying for the knockout stages of the tournament. Their progress came despite a 1-0 defeat against Germany on Thursday night at Soccer City in Johannesburg
Mesut Oezil’s classy strike on the hour condemned the Black Stars to their first defeat in South Africa.
But Ghana advance as runners up behind the Germans who will next play England in Bloemfontein on Sunday.
The United States will be the next barrier for the Ghanaians on Saturday in Rustenburg. And there will be revenge in the air. Ghana beat the Americans in the group stages in Germany to move into the last 16.
Kwesi Nyantakyi, president of the Ghana Football Association, said the country’s performance at the first world cup to be held in Africa was a source of pride.
‘Our experience from the last world cup in Germany has helped to bring us this far,’ he added.
In Germany in their first match at a world cup, Ghana were taught a footballing lesson by Italy. Ghana’s overawed players showed their naivety on the game’s grandest stage, by being over complicated.
The defeated team left the field chastened but to a man they vowed to show the world ‘the true face of Ghanaian football’.
It appeared to be the bravado of a dying swan as the next opponents were the Czech Republic, one of the top teams on the planet, which boasted the midfield marvels Pavel Nedved and Tomas Rosicky and the Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech.
Ghana’s Michael Essien and Stephen Appiah bossed the midfield and the Black Stars had their first victory at the world cup. They followed that with a gritty win over the United States.
Ghana – shorn of the suspended Essien were eliminated by Brazil in the last 16.
Essien has been absent through injury for the 2010 tournament. But his replacements appear to be making light of the loss.
Kwadwo Asamoah, who was thrown into the breach as playmaker during the Africa Cup of Nations when Essien was struck down by injury in January, has grown in confidence.
‘We couldn’t get the win or the draw against Germany,’ said the 21-year-old. ‘But the most important thing is that we’ve qualified for the next stage.’
‘We’ve got to learn from our mistakes and move on. It’s going to be a tough game against the United States but if we work hard and take things seriously we can do well.’
Cote D’Ivoire can join Ghana in the last 16 but it seems a remote possibility. In Group G, Portugal has a vastly superior goal difference to the Ivorians. For the Elephants to march on, they have to crush North Korea in Nelspruit on Friday afternoon and hope that Brazil does the same against Portugal in Durban.
Ghana’s progress in South Africa is all the more remarkable as they entered the tournament as the second lowest ranked of the six teams from Africa. Cameroon at 19 are the highest rated outfit on the continent.
But with the Black Stars as lone rangers, there have been messages of support from lofty portals.
"The African National Congress congratulates Ghana for representing the entire continent by proceeding to the next round of this 2010 FIFA World Cup tournament," said South Africa's ruling party in a statement. "Well-done Ghana for doing Africa proud and all of us as Africans proud."
Tournament organisers have also chipped in. "We wish to congratulate Ghana for keeping the African flag and the representation high in the tournament and we wish them luck in their next game against the USA," said Rich Mkhondo, spokesman for
the local organising committee.
"This is an African World Cup, and we have always maintained that we wish and hope that the African teams will do well, and they are making us very proud."
Victory over the United States would take Ghana into the quarter finals – the same achievement as Cameroon and Senegal.
"We are very happy to have qualified, even if we wanted to have other African teams come through as well," said striker Asamoah Gyan.
"We are on the right path and we are representing our continent, which makes us very happy. The Americans, though, are a very good team, they expend a lot
of energy and are strong physically. But we too have good players.”
"Ghana Fly the Flag for Africa", read a headline in the Johannesburg-based daily The Star on Thursday. The paper said: “The side has provided some much-needed relief for Africa ... whose teams have been disastrous."
Nyantakyi added : ‘It’s unfortunate that other African teams are not doing well. We expected to have many more at this stage. Unfortunately that is not the case. It’s only Ghana but since the mantle has fallen on us, we have to try and discharge our flag bearer role to the admiration and expectation of all of Africa.’