Magazine article New African

So Close, Yet So Far: Never Has an African Team Been Nearer a World Cup Semi-Final Than Ghana's Black Stars, Whose Praiseworthy Form Saved the Continent from Total Embarrassment in South Africa, Reports Michael Oti Adjei, Who Travelled with the Team

Magazine article New African

So Close, Yet So Far: Never Has an African Team Been Nearer a World Cup Semi-Final Than Ghana's Black Stars, Whose Praiseworthy Form Saved the Continent from Total Embarrassment in South Africa, Reports Michael Oti Adjei, Who Travelled with the Team

Article excerpt

I am leaving South Africa with good and bad memories because we did something good for Ghana. But we could have achieved even greater things for the continent," were the apt words of striker Andre Dede Ayew, as the Black Stars ended their tournament adventure in the quarter-finals.

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The 4-2 loss on penalties to Uruguay, at Johannesburg's Soccer City stadium on 2 July, is one that will be excruciatingly painful for striker Asamoah Gyan, who missed a match-winning penalty awarded to Ghana in the very last minute of extra time.

"After missing it, I was hurt, I was a broken man. I knew I had let a great opportunity slip, which was why I cried so much. It was very difficult to control my emotions," said Gyan in an exclusive interview with African Football (see pp. 60-63).

Portuguese referee Olegario Benquerenca pointed to the spot in the 121st minute, after Uruguay striker Luis Suarez deliberately handled a goal-bound shot in the penalty box, cheekily describing his blatant act of cheating as the true "hand of god".

"That was not supposed to have been a penalty but a goal," said Ghana defender John Paintsil. "When you get such an opportunity [to make history] and let it go, it's very painful. It brings tears."

Unable to go beyond the quarter-final barrier since 1990, when Cameroon first achieved the feat in Italy, African football has another four-year wait before it has a chance of turning a new page.

But there is no question that the World Cup was a very successful tournament for the Black Stars, who moved a step beyond their debut in 2006, when they reached the round of sixteen.

And maintaining the trajectory of progress is the challenge now facing the chairman of the Ghana Football Association, Kwesi Nyantekyie.

The youngest team at the World Cup finals, with an average age of 23, the Black Stars consist of players who should grow in experience and achieve better results in the future, hopefully with Milovan Rajevac remaining at the helm.

Fished out of international obscurity, the Serbian-born coach took over the Black Stars in August 2008, with many wondering if a four-year managerial career with three clubs in his country's domestic league--Crvena Zvezda, Vojvodina and Borac Cacak--gave him the pedigree to take charge of one of Africa's leading sides.

A quiet, unassuming but tactically astute coach, with a disciplinarian streak, Rajevac paid little attention to the doubters and set to work, building a side that became the first African team to qualify for the 2010 World Cup, with two matches to spare. Acutely aware that his team lacked the energy of youth, he did not hesitate, despite virulent criticism from commentators, to inject several players from the Under-20 side that had won the 2009 World Youth. Championship in Egypt, into the senior side.

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Reserve goalkeeper Daniel Agyei, defenders Samuel Inkoom and Jonathan Mensah, as well as strikers Dominic Adiyiah and Dede Ayew, son of the Ghana great Abedi Pele, all a part of the winning team, formed the nucleus of Rajevac's new Black Stars.

Surprising the pundits by reaching the Nations Cup final in Angola, ahead of more experienced teams like Nigeria, Cote d'lvoire and Cameroon, and without the presence of their talismanic midfielder, Michael Essien, Ghana laid down their World Cup markers. Their opening group game against Serbia, at Pretoria's Loftus Versfeld Stadium on 13 June, was the ultimate test of Rajevac's loyalty to Ghana.

As he admitted after Ghana's 1-0 victoty, showing no overt joy during the post-match press conference, orchestrating the downfall of his own country was "emotionally difficult".

Against the background of the vuvuzelas, the Black Stars dominated the Serbians for long spells but were unable to snatch the victory until Zdravko Kuzmanovic was yellow carded for handling the ball in the penalty box, with Asamoah Gyan converting the resultant spot kick in the 85th minute. …

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