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Ghana’s Black Stars – Africa’s last hope in the African World Cup

Sipho Hlongwane is a writer and columnist for Daily Maverick. His other work interests also include motoring, music and technology, for which he has some awards. In a previous life, he drove forklift trucks, hosted radio shows, waited tables, and was once bitten by a large monitor lizard on his ankle. It hurt a lot. Arsenal Football Club is his only permanent obsession. He appears in these pages as a political correspondent.

In a Soccer World Cup that’s broken some pretty serious records, including the first in which the host country crashed out in the qualifying round, Italy joined France as the second defending champions not to make it out of the qualifiers and produced some of the worst officiating in the history of football – the first World Cup in Africa now has one tiny nation in the most fractious continent in the world carrying its hopes and dreams in a bizarre form of continental unity.

In addition to the vuvuzela’s “I came. I deafened. I conquered” debut, France easily broke all records for sheer douchiness and general stubcockery and Fifa was exposed as a questionable tyrant at best, the 2010 World Cup showed just what a forgiving lot we South Africans can be?

But more importantly, despite African players dispersed across the globe, only one African side made it through to the last 16 of the “African” World Cup. Contrast that with a 5/5 qualifying record for the South Americans. Waka Waka, it’s time for South America, indeed.

All of this means that Ghana – as a nation and a football team – have been saddled with the unenviable task of lugging Africa’s hopes through the rest of this tournament – and that is absolutely brilliant for us here in South Africa. By the way, do you know what else is brilliant for South Africa? The fact that we finished third in our group and didn’t get to play Argentina in the last 16. Our last memory of Bafana Bafana in the 2010 World Cup will be a 2 – 1 win over France, and not a 7 – 0 humiliation by Argentina. Not even Madiba could have helped us recover from that.

Anyway, the reason I think Ghana’s steady march is good for South Africa is, after reading my column two weeks ago bemoaning the xenophobic tendencies among South Africa’s chattering masses (some of which took enormous umbrage at the suggestion that they might be harbouring xenophobic tendencies, and were as good as to let me know), a friend said we needed to have a  globalised worldview, something South Africans don’t have. Perhaps more of an Africa-aware than global worldview, if you will.

And yes, the view of Africa as a single, homogenous entity is outdated and stupid (the fact that it’s always the perpetually cynical who bring this point up to explain xenophobia doesn’t make it any less true), but the fact remains that South Africans in general do need to touch base with the rest of Africa. It’s time we shed some of the arrogance we aim at our fellow Africans. What better way to do it than to cheer on a team other than Bafana Bafana?

The Black Stars are good. Very good. And while we may argue that they came through the easiest group of any African side (Ivory Coast would have had to somehow defeat both Brazil and Portugal to make it through to the last sixteen), they are undoubtedly the best side Africa has to offer at this tournament. South Africa doesn’t count – we were in the tournament by dint of spending billions touching Fifa on their studio. Algeria were earnest in their play, but were comprehensively outclassed by England, the USA and Slovenia. The Ivory Coast were perhaps a better side than Ghana on paper, but simply lacked the self-belief so vital in football. Nigeria were hot-tempered and uncontrollable – not the sort of team you want in Sven Goran Eriksson’s hands. Cameroon were a crushing disappointment.

The Black Stars now become only the third African team to reach the quarter-finals of the World Cup through the excellent goals of Kevin Prince Boateng and Asamoah Gyan. Ghana’s defeat of the USA was in many ways lucky, and they’ll need more than good luck to beat Uruguay in their quarter-final match. The South Americans have proven to be a physically tough team to beat and Ghana were stretched to the max against the USA. We’d better hope they finish Uruguay off quickly, preferably before the allocated 90 minutes.

The omens aren’t good – Cameroon failed to overcome England in their 1990 quarter-finals World Cup encounter. Not even the presence of the talismanic Roger Milla could change that result. Senegal lost to Turkey in their quarter-final World Cup match in 2002. I’m not going to pretend the Ghana v Uruguay encounter doesn’t fill me with dread.

I hope that Milovan Rajevac, the Ghanaian coach, has somehow managed to instil in his side the attitude that has been lacking in all the other African teams – the sense that Africa should not be satisfied with merely being in the World Cup, but needs to play to win the World Cup.


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