We are all Ghanaian nowby Dave Durbach / 24.06.2010
Bafana may have redeemed themselves in the eyes of the nation with a win over France, but the way things have been panning out on the field over the past two weeks, 2010 has proved anything but the “time for Africa”. As the curtain falls on the group stages of this year’s World Cup, African teams have been dropping like flies: Cameroon, Algeria, Ivory Coast and South Africa all failing to reach the hallowed ground of the last 16.
The last remaining African team in contention, Ghana put on a formidable display against a German team that many have tipped to lift the trophy come July 11. There was very little between the two teams during their encounter at Soccer City last night, save for a brief lapse in concentration that saw German midfielder Mesut Oezil put one past Ghana’s usually unflappable keeper, Richard Kingson, in the 60th minute.
The loss left Ghana languishing on 4 points, that ominous number that puts a team at the mercy of the other teams in the group. As luck would have it, the match running concurrently between Australia and Serbia, goalless at half time, ended with the Aussies winning 2-1, their first win of the tournament, to ensure that the Black Stars, despite the loss, finish second in their group, on goal difference. The good news appeared on the big screen moments after the final whistle at Soccer City, just as the players were walking off the pitch. Immediately, it was as if the scoreline had been reversed. Two Ghanaian players grabbed a flag and embarked on an impromptu lap of honour for a rejuvenated crowd.
One of those players was Ghana’s Fulham-based defender John Pantsil. Speaking to the media after the game, he had the following to say:
“We weren’t happy with the defeat, but we’re happy that we’ve qualified for the last 16. After we got to the bench, and we saw the big screen, it showed that we’re in second position, and we’ve qualified for the last 16. That’s when we started celebrating. I was so delighted to see ourselves in the last 16.”
Ghana now face the USA in their first game of the knockout stages. Both teams will fancy their chances. Either way, a relative underdog will find themselves in the quarterfinals. Pantsil has his sights set on the semis already. “We played the USA four years ago [and won 2-1], so this time it’s going to be an open game for both teams. We believe in ourselves. The fans are going to be there for us. We have to do everything possible to be in the semi-final. If we want to go further, we have to beat the United States.”
Amazingly, Ghana have only scored two goals thus far the tournament, both from the penalty spot. “We the players have to learn to keep our discipline on the pitch. Goals will come. It’s not only the strikers who can score the goals. Defenders can score. We can score from the setpieces, so we are working on that. In the next few games, I think we’re going to get a boost.
Ghana is now the sole African team remaining in the tournament, and will carry with them the expectations of an entire continent. “It’s very sad,” continued Pantsil, “because African teams were planning on going to the last 16, or the quarter-finals. And unfortunately, none of them made it, only Ghana. So ja, we are sad for our people who didn’t make it, but it’s football, and it’s a big tournament that we are playing. But we are asking them to support us, to keep the players going, so that we can reach the final. They’re already behind us. The African unity is already there, so we want the whole of Africa to come and support us, and keep us going, so that we can achieve our goal.”
“My message to all Africans is that we love them, and they love us, and we should stand as one nation, as Africans. We need all the support. We need everything, whatever they can do to help us to keep going and attain the cup, they should do that. And we believe that we’re going to make them proud also, the whole of Africa.”
All images © Dave Durbach