Africa rallying behind Ghana
By GARETH WHEELER, QMI Agency
JOHANNESBURG -- Ghana, Africa's team.
Shakira's World Cup song, Waka, Waka is played everywhere across South Africa. It's a party anthem. People love it. Seriously.
The line in the song "It's time for Africa" speaks volumes. It resonates.
So is it all Waka, Waka or is it really time for Africa?
Africa desperately wants to see one of their own victorious on home soil. Five teams down, only Ghana left.
When the hosts were eliminated from the tournament last week, Ghana became the team to support. To say the whole country is behind Ghana is an understatement. The entire continent is. And Ghana has given reason to believe.
I was engulfed in a sea of Red, Yellow and Green while watching United States lose to Ghana with thousands on an outdoor big screen from the trendy, upscale Melrose Arch area in Johannesburg.
It was something special. The emotion was real.
And the team played well. Very well. Ghana was deserved winners in Rustenburg. The Americans were no slouches, but Ghana were with them step for step. They mixed African style with American intensity. A couple moments of special quality later, Ghana advances.
It started with Kevin (the footballer formerly known as Prince) Boateng, the tournament's most controversial player heading in, yet a pillar of strength down the left wing Saturday, punishing sloppy defending to bury the opener.
But the star, the hero of the day was talisman Asamoah Gyan. To say his Extra Time winner was merely well taken wouldn't be doing Gyan justice. Give Gyan credit for picture perfect form on the half volley and for also staying on his feet when other players would have gone down.
I had the pleasure meeting Gyan at Sun City after the Australia match a week ago. Soft-spoken, Gyan took time to take pictures with whomever wanted a shot. Call it karma. Call it character. Call him a World Cup star.
And it's now Ghana in the spotlight at the tournament along side the other elite sides. Expectations are gaining. And so are the chances an African team will play until the end.
This is all rather improbable from a team without a whole lot expectations coming in. Ghana has been perennial underachievers on the world stage and has even been implicated in match-fixing scandals in recent years, specifically the 2006 World Cup.
Author and investigative journalist Declan Hill breaks down Ghana's sketchy relations to match-fixing in his book "The Fix: Soccer and Organized Crime. Current player Stephen Appiah is among those Hill says was approached by match-fixers. Hill claims Appiah did take money in the past, but only to win games.
In an interview I conducted before the tournament, Hill declared Ghana surprisingly as a team to beat at World Cup, South Africa. Predicting big things from the Black Stars seemed a little far-fetched with standout Michael Essien ruled out before the tournament.
Hill believed Ghana's match-fixing ghosts were a thing of the past because light being shed on the situation and player payment issues were taken care of.
With the off-field distractions behind them, Ghana looks to be an entirely focused bunch under coach Milovan Rajevac.
Rajevac's team, not flashy but an effective, extremely organized defensive bunch. Ghana doesn't have a whole lot in attack and play accordingly. Two goals from the penalty spot are all they mustered in the group stage. But the team plays to their strengths -- ball-winning and playing a physical, straightforward brand and have come together as a unit accordingly.
Ghana's biggest concern up until its last match was goalkeeper Richard Kingson. The goalkeeper answered his critics, making big saves on Benny Feilhaber and Jozy Altidore. Rajevac kept faith in Kingson, and it paid off.
At the back, big John Mensah and John Pantsil have been towers of power. While 20-year old emerging star, Samuel Inkoom continues the impressive form he showed at FC Basel this past year. The kid is a stud in attack and defence.
The midfield is full of unsung heroes. So much so household name Sulley Muntari has been planted on the bench. This team first approach over individual talent has worked wonders. While up front, pressure remains on Gyan to produce as he did against the USA. If Gyan doesn't play a massive role, they'll be in tough getting past Uruguay.
Still, with the continent behind them, there's no counting out the Black Stars against Uruguay or anyone else for that matter.