African hopes on Ghana to make World Cup history
Published 02/07/2010 | 06:24
For the third time an African nation has reached the World Cup quarter-finals. This time though, it is different.
With the most glamorous tournament being held in Africa for the first time, hopes were high that there would be a strong representation in the latter stages.
Unfortunately, as the only side to make it out of their group, Ghana have been left to shoulder the burden alone.
Yet Ghana Football Association president Kwesi Nyantakyi believes the Black Stars are ready to make World Cup history.
Nyantakyi insists they are strong enough to carry it and beat Uruguay at Soccer City to break new ground by taking Africa into the last four.
"It is a huge opportunity for us to make history," said.
"We expected to have a number of African teams challenging at this World Cup but in fact there is only us. That is a huge burden of responsibility.
"But we can cope. Our aim is the final.
"The only team that has ever won a World Cup outside its own continent is Brazil. We want to maintain that record by winning it ourselves and really showing the world what African football is all about."
Ghana's achievement in coming through a group containing fellow quarter-finalists Germany, Australia and Serbia is made even more remarkable by the fact their star man, Chelsea's Michael Essien, was ruled out of the tournament by a knee injury.
Yet, unlike the Ivory Coast, who were largely expected to be Africa's best team, the Black Stars are not constructed around a couple of brilliant individuals with clear weaknesses elsewhere in their team.
Progress had started by 2005, when they were named the most improved team on the planet by FIFA.
The following year they reached the World Cup finals for the first time, making the last 16, where they lost to Brazil with a side whose average age was only 23.
Progress continued with a third-placed finish at the 2008 African Nations Cup, going on to become defeated finalists earlier this year to an Egypt side who did not reach South Africa.
Most importantly of all, they won the Under-20 world championship last year, confirming progress is being maintained, just as Nyantakyi always knew it would.
"We implemented a programme of development that was achievable and sustainable," he said.
"We identified talented players at Under-12, Under-15 and Under-17 and our performances have risen steadily.
"It means there is a consistency in our performance.
"Most probably these players will still be around for the next World Cup - and they will still be in their 20s, so there is a lot more to come from us."
Nyantakyi is correct. Of the 23 players on duty in South Africa, 15 are aged 24 or under, including Asamoah Gyan, scorer of the winner against USA in the last round, and Portsmouth's Kevin-Prince Boateng.
The only drawback is that the Ghanaian public do not get a chance to see their team play very often.
With the vast majority of their players based in Europe, most friendly matches are played away from home, even the ones Ghana are hosting.
There is a simple economic reason for this, although Nyantakyi does not view Europe as the great ogre it has been painted for taking young star struck players out of Africa.
"Europe has a positive impact on our football and on our national team," he said.
"Most of our players play there. The facilities and opportunities are obviously so much better than we have in Africa.
"We do play our 'home' matches in Europe. But that is purely down to the practicalities and financial reality.
"It is easier for our players to get to London than pay for them all to travel back to Ghana.
"In addition, we get to play in good stadium and, even more importantly, we find it easier to sell sponsorship."
Sponsorship will be far easier to come by should Ghana go even further in them competition.
It is now two decades since Pele made his famous claim that an African team would win the World Cup in the 20th century.
That deadline has long since passed.
But in Ghana, there is a team who could yet make the dream become reality.
"When Pele said that the continent was still taking baby steps football wise," said Nyantakyi.
"Now we have five teams at the World Cup, six this time because South Africa were the hosts and, apart from Europe and South America, Africa is the only continent with a representative in the last eight.
"It is only a matter of time before an African team wins the World Cup. And don't discount it being us."