Ghana flies the flag for Africa

25 June 2010

An interesting phenomenon at play in the 2010 Fifa World Cup – something that visitors from outside the continent will have noticed – is that Africans support not only their home teams, but all African teams. All that support will be now be behind Ghana, as the only African team to progress beyond the group stage of the tournament.

There is still an outside chance that Cote D’Ivoire could join them in the last 16 – but no one is holding their breath. Didier Drogba’s men, who face North Korea in their final Group G match on Friday, need a couple of scenarios to stay in the World Cup. They need Brazil to beat Portugal, and also need to make up a goal difference of minus-9 to the Portuguese. That’s a big ask.

Fifa president Sepp Blatter and Danny Jordaan, CEO of the Local Organising Committee, have often referred to the 2010 finals as “Africa’s World Cup”, and their words are borne out by the support of Africans for one another.

Ghana now carry the hopes of a continent.

Fine pedigree

Despite a fine pedigree, Ghana had surprisingly not played in a Fifa World Cup prior to Germany 2006. Their record in Africa until that point had been excellent: they won the African Nations Cup in 1963, 1965, 1978 and 1982, and finished runners0up in 1968, 1970 and 1992.

This year, too, they finished runners-up in Africa’s most prestigious competition. Yet World Cup success eluded the Black Stars.

Back in 2006, in their first finals, they made a decent impact, finishing second in Group E to eventual champions Italy, which qualified them for the round of 16. There, however, the experience of Brazil, under coach Carlos Alberto Parreira, proved too much, and they went down 3-0.

South Africa 2010

This time around in South Africa, Ghana, playing in Group D, opened their challenge with a deserved, shock 1-0 defeat of highly-regarded Serbia. In their next outing, Australia were reduced to 10 men, but produced a gritty performance to hold the Black Stars to a 1-1 draw.

In their final game, Ghana lost 1-0 to Germany. It was an end-to-end contest that could have gone either way, but was settled by a super strike by German midfielder Mesut Özil.

Despite the defeat, the Ghanains had done enough to advance to the next round as second-place finishers in the group behind the Germans.

What is interesting about Ghana and Germany is the strength coming through from their youth ranks. Germany won the European under-21 Championships in 2009, while Ghana won the Fifa under-20 World Cup last year. Both teams have players from those title-winning teams in action in South Africa.

Cameroon’s 1990 run

Now, with the round of 16 only days away, the hopes of Africa rest on the Black Stars as the host continent waits for a team to match Cameroon’s run to the World Cup quarterfinals in 1990, where the Indomitable Lions very nearly toppled England, losing 3-2 after extra time.

Before the start of South Africa 2010, hopes had been high that African teams would make a big impact on the tournament on home soil, but those hopes have one by one been dashed in the group stages – which, interestingly, have been dominated by South American teams. Many European teams, like Africa’s representatives, have struggled to make an impact.

South Africa’s exit

Despite a giant showing in Group A, hosts South Africa failed to progress after one bad game against Uruguay, which Bafana Bafana lost 3-0.

In the home side’s other matches, they drew 1-1 with Mexico and beat France 2-1. Ultimately, Bafana lost out to Mexico on a place in the next round on goal difference.

In Group B, Nigeria gave Argentina – one of the form teams in the group stages of the event – a good game before going down 1-0. They were reduced to 10 men after 33 minutes against Greece and went on to lose 2-1, while they played to a 2-2 draw with South Korea in their final outing. With two losses, they finished bottom of their group.

Tightest group

Algeria, in Group C, lost 1-0 to Slovenia, held England to a goalless draw, and fell 1-0 to the United States. Competition in the group was the tightest of any in the World Cup finals.

Cameroon suffered a surprisingly poor tournament, finishing bottom of Group E after losses in all three of their matches: they were beaten 1-0 by Japan, 2-1 by Denmark, and 2-1 by the Netherlands – not a train smash by any stretch of the imagination, but three losses nonetheless.

Behind the Black Stars

So, barring a miracle in Cote D’Ivoire’s match on Friday, Africa’s support is firmly behind the Black Stars of Ghana. A top showing by an African team in the continent’s first hosting of the World Cup would be widely welcomed.

And, to steal a World Cup phrase: “Ke Nako”, it is time (for Africa to shine).

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