Can Ghana Do It?

All of Africa’s hopes now rest on the `Black Stars´, the continent’s best hope

When Ghanaian football striker Asamoah Gyan scored the winning goal in the third minute of extra time against the U.S. last week, history was made. It’s not only Ghana, though, who desperately wants to see their team, the Black Stars, continue to make history in the 2010 World Cup; it’s most of Africa.

Having beat the U.S. 2 to 1 last Saturday night, Ghana, in their second World Cup appearance, is the only African team to have advanced to the 2010 quarterfinals – keeping the hopes of the entire host continent alive as high morale sweeps across the borders of Africa’s fifty-four nations.

After last weekend’s win, Accra exploded in celebration. “We’ve made everybody proud,” Gyan said, in an Associated Press article. “Not Ghana alone, but all of Africa.”

It can be easy for one’s sense of loyalty to become distorted upon realizing that winning one of the qualifying matches – or even the whole tournament – doesn’t mean the same thing for all teams. A U.S. win last week would have meant great things for American “soccer,” but Ghana’s victory – and the small but not impossible chance of an overall triumph – matters so much to Africa because it’s never been done before.

NY Times columnist William C. Rhoden admitted in an article he wrote about the last week’s match that “my heart was with the United States, but I was pulling for Africa. Not Ghana. Africa.” While the U.S. team undoubtedly had fans cheering them on around the globe, many Americans and other non-Africans shared his sentiments.

Ghana is the third African nation to ever make it to the quarterfinals in a World Cup, after Cameroon in 1990 and Senegal in 2002. If they can make it to the semifinals, Ghana will be the first-ever African nation to qualify for that round. And with an average age of 24.1 years old, the Black Stars of Ghana – if they beat Uruguay on Friday – will be the youngest team in the 2010 tournament to make it to the semifinals.

The fact that Uruguay has not lost a single game in this World Cup is disconcerting, at the very least. But spirits remain high, and as the Black Stars prepare for Friday’s game, they recognize the weight the game carries.

“We must fight not just for us, but for the other teams that are not here,” said Ghana forward Dede Ayew in an interview with the Associated Press. “We feel we have…the whole of Africa behind us, and that’s given us a lot of energy to fight more.”

The 2010 tournament is the first time the World Cup had ever been held on African soil. While South Africa, the host nation, spent six years preparing for the arrival of 32 teams and roughly 600,000 fans, the rest of Africa swelled with pride and waited for the start of the games in anticipation.

But now, any chance of an African victory is up to Ghana. “It is clear that the Black Stars will now have to discharge the highly honourable and well deserved responsibility to represent Africa in the next stages of the World Cup,” said former president of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, in a statement to Ghana’s Football Association.

South Africa hopes to use the World Cup to unify the country and to quell stereotypes of Africa as a place characterized by conflict and destitution. A lofty goal to be achieved by a football tournament, perhaps. But considering the popularity of and downright entrenched love for the game in Africa, perhaps it is in fact a sport that can heal there.

For now, though, over one billion Africans are holding their breath for Ghana. For the Black Stars, the pressure is certainly on.

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