FORMER South Africa president Thabo Mbeki has challenged Ghana’s Black Stars to rise to the occasion on their date with destiny at Soccer City this Friday, and take a huge leap into the history books as the first African side to reach the semi-finals of the FIFA World Cup showcase.
Ghana powered their way into the quarter-finals with a hard-fought and impressive 2-1 win over a battling United States where their stamina and mental strength received a tough examination, in a game that spilled into extra-time, with big forward Asamoah Gyan firing home the priceless winner.
The Black Stars are the only African side left in the competition after five others — hosts South Africa, Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Cameroon and Algeria — were knocked out in the first phase of the group stages of the competition.
Ghana now carry the heavy burden of playing not only for their country but also for the continent in the first World Cup to be held on African soil.
The Black Stars — the youngest team in this World Cup on average — have already equalled the best run by African sides by reaching the last eight and emulating the feat achieved by Cameroon in 1990 and Senegal in 2002.
Remarkably Ghana are only playing at their second World Cup finals, after making their debut in Germany in 2006, but this has been a golden spell for football in their country with their Under-20 team winning the World Youth Championships and the Black Stars reaching the final of the Nations Cup in Angola a few months ago.
Ghana have also produced a battery of high-profile world-class footballers along the way, including Chelsea’s Michael Essien, but such is the depth in their reserves that they have done well even without the services of the injured midfielder at this World Cup with a number of players coming to the fore.
Mbeki, who was the leader of this country when it won the right to host the World Cup six years ago, believes Ghana should now battle to even go all the way.
“It is clear that the Black Stars will now have to discharge the highly honourable and well-deserved responsibility to represent Africa and the African Diaspora in the next stages of the World Cup,” Mbeki said in a message sent to the Ghana Football Association and published on their official website . In this regard the Black Stars will remain true to the role that Ghana has played as an eminent leader of the peoples of Africa and the African Diaspora as they have worked to resolve the challenges we have had to confront.
“I am certain that these millions will now rally behind the Black Stars to guarantee that we cap the fact of the very successful hosting of the World Cup by Africa by ensuring that on behalf of the Continent and the Diaspora, the Black Stars, now of Africa, win the 2010 Fifa Soccer World Cup.”
Ghana have not been short of African support either and thousands, if not millions, of South Africans exploded into delirium after the Black Stars powered their way to their victory over the United States.
Ghanaian coach Milovan Rajevac has also urged his players to dream big.
“We have been shocking the world in the last two years,” he said when questioned how his team will deal with the absence of key players Andre “Dede” Ayew and defender Jonathan Mensah.
Ayew, the son of legendary Ghanaian forward Abedi Pele, is suspended for the game on Friday after picking up his second yellow card.
Mensah, the tough centreback, is also out after also picking a second yellow.
“They (Dede and Jonathan) are definitely out and this is a fact. It’s through suspensions and these things happen in tournaments,” said Rajevac.
“But we’ll try our best on the injured players and make sure they are ready for the next match.”
The Serbian is reveling in his role as guardian of the youngest side at the World Cup and takes a lot of pride in seeing his youthful team rising to the occasion.
“(The win against the United States] was a great day for Ghanaian and African football. It was the first time in the history of Ghana to reach the quarter finals,” he said.
“Ghanaian football has done well in the past two years reaching the CHAN finals (Nations Cup for only local league players), reaching the Nations Cup finals and winning the Under-20 World Cup.
“The coach of the Under 20 team Sellas Tetteh did a great job assembling the youngsters. Some of them are here doing a good job and I’m happy they are learning so fast.”
Rajevac said, whatever happens on Friday, no one will take away the fact that — during this World Cup — his young team turned into one of the best eight national sides on the globe.
“Ghana is now among the eight best teams in the world. This is fantastic. When we reached the final of the African Cup of Nations the boys learned how to compete,” he said.
“That is the most important thing and I now hope Ghana will go further.”
Leading striker Gyan, who fired home a beauty for the winner against the United States to bring his tally to three in this World Cup, suffered an ankle injury in training on Monday but is hopeful to recover and play a big part in Friday’s match.
“I felt a knock and it’s a bit swollen, but I don’t think it’s too serious. By Friday I’ll be ready,” he said.
The injuries have been a concern for Ghana and inspirational captain John Mensah, midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng and Ayew also missed the session.
Portsmouth midfielder Boateng has a hamstring injury and remains a doubt for Friday’s match but big defender Mensah, who has been the untold success story of this Black Stars team with his leadership qualities, should recover from recurrent back problems.
The Black Stars were also cheered by the return of central defender Isaac Vorsah, who missed their last two matches, to training especially now that Jonathan Mensah’s place will have to be filled by someone else. From Robson Sharuko in Johannesburg, South Africa.
CNN International profiles USAfrica’s Founder Chido Nwangwu.
Special to USAfrica multimedia networks & CLASSmagazine
On June 24, 2010, CNN International reporter/producer/camera team visited USAfrica’s editorial headquarters in Houston, Texas, for 3.5 hours to document a forthcoming CNN International profile of USAfrica’s Founder & Publisher Dr. Chido Nwangwu. http://photoworks.tv/cnn-chido-usafrica2010
The recordings/interviews were wrapped up on Friday June 25, 2010.
A few pixs from the event are available for preview, exclusively at the African diaspora community’s #1 pictorial features web site www.PhotoWorks.TV
CNN also recorded the editorial board/production meeting of USAfrica and CLASSmagazine on key issues including the USAfrica comparison of the oil spills in the Niger Delta to the environmental disaster in the U.S Gulf of Mexico, electoral reforms in Nigeria, Africa and World Cup 2010, etc.
USAfrica is assessed by major policy and media organizations including the New York Times as the largest and arguably the most influential African-owned, U.S-based multimedia networks; founded since 1993 in Houston by Chido Nwangwu. https://usafricaonline.com/chido.html