ByÂ Karl Coppack
IF THINGS are getting easier, maybe youâ€™re headed downhill. â€“ Ghanaian proverb
I like this proverb. I like its suggestion that struggling is merely a step on the road to progress and that the easier path isnâ€™t always the right one. Ghana has had its fair share of struggles over the years, after all. However, as much as I like the saying it doesnâ€™t deal with the facts, so letâ€™s start with one.
INTERESTING FACT: Ghana means â€˜Warrior Kingâ€™.
Do you feel that you know it now? No? Alright. Letâ€™s leave quotes and facts alone for a bit. I mean, I could move onto other basic information â€“ geography, population, average rainfall etc â€“ but youâ€™re here for something else. I could tell you of my own interest in the country but other than â€˜I like itâ€™ you probably want more. I could flirt with controversy and build an invective about the man who stopped both a certain goal and them getting to the World Cup semi-final but I wonâ€™t/might/probably wonâ€™t for a bit but even then that isnâ€™t the place to start. I could kick off by apologising for the headline â€“ that seems only fair â€“ but no. Letâ€™s start with the continent.
African football has come a long way in terms of development and perception since Brian Clough described them as â€˜a load of spear carriers who still eat each otherâ€™ (What a character, eh?) and although Peleâ€™s prophesy that an African nation will win the World Cup before the year 2000 didnâ€™t come to pass theyâ€™re getting closer, albeit in small increments.
The African Cup of Nations has gained in popularity over here thanks to BBC coverage and the footballing infrastructure has strengthened as a result, thereby allowing the game to ripen. Itâ€™s now rare for an African nation to be hammered in the tournament (Yugoslavia 9 Zaire 0 â€“ 1974) and theyâ€™re no longer the whipping boys of the competition. Indeed, many fancied clubs donâ€™t enjoy the prospect of playing them.
Ask defending World Champions France about their opening game against Senegal in 2002 or Argentina of Cameroon, 1990. The playing field may not be level, particularly as France takes a good many talented African footballers as naturalised players â€“ Zidane of Algeria and Desailly of Ghana for example â€“ and leaves the rest where it found them, but things are improving. Even though this is my favourite World Cup moment, we donâ€™t see this anymore.
I love that. I love the sense of â€˜No one else is having a go, soâ€¦â€™
The Black Stars (thereâ€™s one in the middle of the flag) made their World Cup debut back in 2006 with the youngest side in the tournament. Many expected them to exit with a customary whimper given that Italy and the Czech Republic were favourites to go through but not so.
Impressive wins over the Czechs and the USA took them through and they even took Italy close in their opening game when they were finished off by a late Iaquinta goal. This was more than a fair debut. However, it didnâ€™t last. Brazil ended the romance with a 3-0 win. Never mind. The first steps had been taken.
They returned in 2010 and again unexpectedly climbed out of the group stage. Serbia, featuring such notable greats as Nemanja Vidic and, well, Milan Jovanovic, fell to a late Asamoah Gyan penalty. A draw with Australia and a defeat to Germany took them to a round two encounter with the USA. Had it not been for Englandâ€™s sub-par group performances they would have faced Capelloâ€™s men and I would have been picked on in my office for being loyal to my girlfriendâ€™s heritage rather than my own country. Shame. I would have enjoyed that.
Iâ€™d bought a flag and everything.
A Landon Donovan goal was not enough for the States as Kevin-Prince Boateng and Gyan struck to make them only the third African side to make the quarter finals, following Cameroon in 1990 and Senegal 2002.
You have to feel sorry for the USA. Dismissed twice by Ghana in the last two World Cups and due to meet them again next month.
Their next game in the tournament ranks as one of the most famous games in the history of the competition. On 2nd July 2010 Ghana faced Uruguay in Johannesburg. Sulley Muntari put the Black Stars ahead before Diego Forlan leveled. The game edged into extra time and things went insane. A man, I forget who, did what we would all do in this situation and handled a goalbound shot on the line in the last minute of injury time. He had put his country first and sacrificed his own place in the next round by not cheating or anything like that. No. It was brave if anything.
Iâ€™m over it.
Ghana were on their way to face The Netherlands in the semi final of the World Cup. The World Cup semi-final. All it needed was Asamoah Gyan to put the penalty away and right this terrible wrong/stunning act of selfless patriotism. Alas, romance gave way to heroic failure as Gyan smashed it off the crossbar.
The dream had gone and a manâ€™s brave, ever-so-brave, decision to not cheat as such had cost us all a dream. The man, sent off for his act of courage, celebrated wildly on the sidelines which he was well within his rights to do. He should certainly not expect to incur the wrath of any fan who is bitter for years afterwards just because he spoiled someoneâ€™s World Cup dream. Alright?
I got him back with that fake contract business. Weâ€™re even now.
Well, that was then. Itâ€™s a new tournament and some of us have moved on (bastard). Itâ€™s all about 2014. Time for a fact though.
INTERESTING FACT: Ghana withdrew from the 1966 World Cup in protest over FIFA not granting enough places to African and Asian nations
Ghana qualified relatively easily this time, helped by two wins against Egypt (7-3 and 6-0) but havenâ€™t gone on to dominate the continent as many expected. They disappointed at last yearâ€™s African Cup of Nations, going out to Burkina Faso in the semi-finals before losing to Mali in the third place play off. Africa expected better, particularly as they could have beaten their biggest rivals Nigeria in the final. Whatâ€™s more, theyâ€™re in a pig of a draw in Brazil. Along with the USA they face Germany and Portugal so this may just be a three game tournament. You never know though. You just never know.
Cost me good money, that flag.
Theyâ€™ve retained some of their 2010 vintage. Asamoah Gyan, now at Al Ain in the UAE following his time in Sunderland, is back after a brief retirement from international football and Michael Essien, now 52 years old, is in the squad. Emmanuel Frimpong has failed to make the cut but have a look at Marseilleâ€™s Andre Ayew. We were linked with him last summer and heâ€™s effective when coming off the wing to support the strikers.
INTERESTING FACT: Asamoah Gyan once DJed at Steve Bruceâ€™s wifeâ€™s birthday party. He did too. He used to drop some sweet tunes at the Hendon Social Club in Sunderland. What more do you want?
I started this with a thought provoking proverb so Iâ€™ll end with something simple, something honest.
We had so much fun in Ghana and they are really lovely people. â€“ Ade Edmondson
I just hope theyâ€™re not so nice in Brazil.
Ghana v USA â€“ 11pm â€“ Monday 16th June Germany v Ghana â€“ 8pm â€“ Saturday 21st June Portugal v Ghana â€“ 5pm â€“ Thursday 26th June