Friday, July 9, 2010

Recapping the Black Stars shine at the Mzansi Mundial

I know the 2010 World Cup in South Africa is not over but I am not waiting till July 11, 2010 to talk about the Black Stars' tournament. It's been a week since the Black Stars crashed out of the Mzansi Mundial, after solely carrying Africa's charge through to the knockout stages. I have finished mourning. The Black Stars made Ghana and Africa proud. They knew they had a job to do when they changed the inscription on their bus to 'Hope of Africa'. You could hear it in their interviews. The Ghana flag was redesigned with the African map replacing the Black Star. The Black Stars became known as the BaGhana BaGhana of GhAfrica. Well done, Black Stars, you made us all proud. Let's recount your journey.

I blogged about before the tournament - "I believed that when the boys camped together and built chemistry, they'll do well. And we saw how they made Afria proud in 2006." "The boys have been together and I know they are shiing jama at this very moment waiting to go do Ghana and Africa proud. They need the fans to believe with them and support them in prayer." "If we start that way (a win over Serbia), there's no telling how well we will do because our confidence will keep on building.". Sure, Michael Essien was missing, and Sulley Muntari was banged up, but there were just a couple of Black Stars. The boys came into the tournament with VIM and played all their games with it.

Before the Serbia game, I was so excited. In fact, I woke up way before my alarm sounded. I had sensed the Black Stars were going to do something special that that excitement didn't allow me to sleep. I had spent the days before the game singing along to Nana Boroo's Aha yɛ dɛ. When Asamoah Gyan scored that penalty against Serbia, I shouted 'Laduuuuuuuuuuuuuuma'. Laduma is what South Africans shout when a goal is scored. It wasn't just about Ghana, folks, it was about being one of the African teams. The Black Stars became the first African country to win a World Cup game on African soil. I watched this game alone in my friend's house in North Carolina in my yellow Black Stars jersey. After the win, people started claiming the one goal project. Ghana had won by a lone goal and the new slogan was "Yes, We Gyan".

I watched the Australia game in LA with a couple of friends. I expected another win. The Socceroos scored first and we were all watching how the Black Stars would react to being down. Soon after, their pressure paid off as they won another penalty off a handball. Asamoah Gyan coolly sent us ahead to more shouts of "Laduma" and Black Stars fans everywhere must have been sensing a kill. The kill never came and we settled for a point. After the game, I wondered, is the One Goal Project an Asamoah Gyan penalty with the theme, "Yes We Gyan"? Many Ghanaians felt so. "We can't score from open play". "The team is not good". "Germany will kill us like they killed Australia". "We won't win anymore penalties and then what?"

The date with the Germans arrived and that 1993 Bochum debacle felt like yesterday because Ghanaians wouldn't let sleeping dogs lie. The fact that Serbia had just beaten Germany 1-0 in the last match didn't seem to matter much. Many of us knew all we needed was a draw but feared the worst. The worst did come, actually, it wasn't the worst because we only lost 1-0 instead of 4-0. Maybe the collective VIM was too great, because how else can we explain Australia beating Serbia 2-1 to make our loss feel like a win? When was the last time you lost something and actually felt like celebrating? That's what happened on June 23rd. I watched our game at Stanford in a student lounge and the other TV had the Serbia game showing concurrently. Delirious delight by design is how I'll define Australia winning and Ghana losing at the same time. The loss made sure we'll be second and have a date with the US national soccer team in the quarter-finals and then Uruguay or South Korea in the semis. VIM. :-)

Saturday, June 26, arrived and saw me and two Stanford Ghanaians trek to Oakland to join other Black Stars fans to watch the USA game. During the trip, I imagined how I'd feel making that one hour trip back if the Black Stars had lost the game. But I believed the Black Stars would win. Kevin Boateng shut up the naysayers by finalling proving Ghana could score from open play with a 5th minute goal. The US came back like every American institution would (with a penalty no less) but there was Asamoah Gyan again to save us. In extra-time. With a goal from open play. "All, we are saying, give us more goals". We shiied jama during the game, with intermittent shouts of "Ka sɛ vim, vim, afei momma me vim". We rejoiced in seeing Alexi Lalas cry. ESPN's Mike Tirico, who had the nerve to say Ghana had 20% of its population under the poverty line after our Serbian victory, didn't cry. The talk was of how the US blew an opportunity and nothing about Ghana. But why should that surprise any of us? We are always underrated, even by ourselves.

After the yanking of the Yanks, Ghana's Black Stars had made the quarterfinals, joining Cameroun in 1990 and Senegal in 2002 as the only African countries to do so. We were not satisfied. We looked up and saw Uruguay and knew we would take them down and become the first African side to get to the semis and hey, maybe, win the World Cup. The 'realists' were not buying that though with the Netherlands, Brazil, Argentina, Germany and Spain ahead of us. The game versus Uruguay was going to be July 2nd, 2010, a day after the 60th anniversary of Ghana's Republic. The talk of BaGhana BaGhana had surfaced, together with the redesigned Ghana flag. History was going to be made by the usual suspects, Ghanaians. The pride of Africa. The hope of Africa. The yada yada blah blah.

I watched the Uruguay game together with some other Africans at Stanford. Andre Ayew, the embodiment of vim and the son of Ghanaian legend, Abedi Pele, was suspended. His replacement was Sulley Muntari. Sulley was expected to be Ghana's star but got injured before the World Cup and had to be benched. He had had run-ins with the Black Stars coach, Miloan Rajevac and the management. He was not fit though he had won the treble - UEFA Champions League, Italian Serie A and Italian Cup, even if he wasn't a major star at Inter Milan. Muntari started against Uruguay and made our first-half domination count by scoring a goal right before half-time. Happiness be what? Africans were hugging all over the world. We had one foot in the semi-finals.

Diego Forlan, half of Uruguay's dangerous duo, pulled his team back into it with a fine goal. The Black Stars laboured trying to get a winning goal but it wasn't forthcoming. When we almost finally got it, the other half of Uruguay's dangerous duo, Luis Suarez, was punching the ball out of his own net in the dying embers of extra-time. The referee spotted it, gave him a red card and whistled for a Black Stars penalty. Asamoah Gyan, who had scored two penalties for Ghana earlier in the Mzansi Mundial, stepped up to the plate. Yes, We Gyan. His shot powered off the bar into the air. The game vanished into thin air too. No, We're done. We didn't survive the penalty kicks. The Black Stars' journey was kaput.

We started looking for answers. Luis Suarez became the most hated villian. Asamoah Gyan was rueful even though he converted our first spot-kick. Stephen Appiah, the unfit old captain, who had wanted to take that last-minute penalty, converted his too. The current captain, John Mensah aka Rock of Gibraltar, took a golf pose infront of the ball and kicked it right the Uruguayan goalie's hands who had already read him. Dominic Adiyiah, one member of the victorious Black Satellites who won the World Youth Cup just a year before, took a better spot kick that the goalie saved. The new Black Star 'rock star' didn't even get the chance to take his. The dream was done. We had just woken up from a bad dream. Or so we hoped.

I'll tell you what though, for me the VIM is still there. It's probably the reason I haven't been able to cry and why I haven't had trouble sleeping. The Black Stars did well, in my estimation, they didn't go as far as I thought and believed they would go. We should be upset. We had a chance to do something special. We should be happy we made some history but we should be unhappy we didn't get the job done. This is why we should be motivated to do even better. We remember how it felt when we had gotten to the quarterfinals, we should all we can to feel that way as often as we can. That's why we shouldn't stop saying VIM. So, VIM!
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