2 July ~ In the 80-year history of the World Cup, only 24 different nations have made it to the last four. None of the 57 countries in Africa has got that far. Cameroon came close in 1990. Senegal were a whisker away in 2002. But both failed. Now it is Ghana’s time to try, with a quarter-final clash against Uruguay at Soccer City, Johannesburg. As has been mentioned repeatedly, Ghana carry the weight of an entire continent on their young shoulders. To an extent this could simply be considered empty romanticising. But in South Africa, several provinces have announced that their citizens should, from June 30, wear the national colours of Ghana as a gesture of solidarity.
The ruling ANC invited the Black Stars to a presentation, while Nelson Mandela has also extended a special invitation to the Ghana team for a private reception at his house in Cape Town. Milovan Rajevac’s side can expect the backing of the entire host nation, alongside around one billion other Africans. Soccer City will be like home territory.
What effect the increased exposure, and with it pressure, will have on a young side remains to be seen. Ghana’s whole ethos over the last year’s success has been based on a low-key, team-over-stars mentality, so it will be interesting to see to what extent fancy dinner invites and back-slapping receptions affect their focus. Thankfully, the realisation of just how historically significant a win against Uruguay would be is not lost on the players.
"Now it’s our turn," said Stephen Appiah, the most influential player in Ghana’s dressing room. "We hope that we can better it by going to the semi-final. It would be a great achievement because one day I would like to talk to my kids and explain to them what happened in South Africa in 2010."
In terms of preparation, the suspect fitness of Asamoah Gyan and Kevin Prince Boateng provides cause for concern. Gyan has been Didier Drogba-incarnate is his leading of the line, and his superb control and finish against US displayed the type of ruthless play many thought beyond him.
Boateng, meanwhile, has been Ghana’s wild card, a midfield revelation since making his international debut just one month ago. With Andre Ayew suspended, Boateng’s presence is vital. How midfield shield Anthony Annan deals with Diego Forlan is also a key battle. Forlan loves to drop deep and shoot from range, and is highly effective at both.
No African side has ever won a World Cup knockout match without it going to extra time. It could be a long night. Jonathan Fadugba