On the streets of the African expatriate stronghold of Yeoville, in Johannesburg, everyone’s suddenly a Ghanaian. Nigerians have decorated their restaurants with Black Star flags. South Africans are putting up posters of star Ghanaian players in their apartments. Zimbabwean hawkers are selling Black Star paraphernalia almost exclusively.
Trader Michael Mashava, from Mozambique, has abandoned selling South African flags in favor of those from Ghana.
“I had no choice,” he smiles, “the Black Star is now Africa’s only hope in this World Cup … Sorry Bafana!” he exclaims, referring to South Africa’s national team that’s already been ousted from the competition.
Inside the bars of Yeoville, everyone’s behind Ghana. In the London Pride pub, four men from South Africa, Zambia and Cameroon sit around a table drinking large bottles of lager.
One of them, Manfred Mukoka, says “Let me tell you one thing – the spirit of Africa is behind (Ghana). We are supporting them, because we have confidence in the Ghanaian team! Ghana is going to win. The South Africans are behind them; everyone!”
His Cameroonian drinking buddy adds, to great laughter, “Everyone is a Ghanaian now, in Africa!”
Ben Owusu, one of the most respected members of Johannesburg’s large Ghanaian expatriate community, declares, “Everyone’s congratulating me (since the Black Stars beat the United States last week to make the quarterfinals), as if I myself am playing for the Black Stars! I feel like a celebrity!”
He adds, “It has come to pass; the dream has come true. So all the Africans have now come together to put their weight (behind) Ghana, hoping that they will still go further to achieve for Africa.”
Black Stars ‘used to winning’
Owusu, a local football coach and restaurant owner known as ‘Uncle Ben,’ rates the US “much higher” than Uruguay, which he says gives him encouragement ahead of the Black Stars quarterfinal encounter with the South Americans.
“America is not a cheap team. People see America as no (good) team. But America has so many times proved to the world that America is a great team,” he says.
Owusu says this young Black Stars team is used to winning. He says people forget all the international trophies it’s won - including last year’s under-20 World Cup.
“So we trust in them. We have believed that without any of the senior players, these same boys can do it …They have the mentality to beat far better teams than Uruguay, no doubt.”
Owusu acknowledges Uruguay have been “very impressive” in the tournament so far, topping Group A, containing hosts, South Africa, Mexico and France – which included a 3 – 0 mauling of South Africa - and beating plucky South Korea to reach a quarterfinal date with Ghana.
“Uruguay is a good team, but you can’t tell me that it is a far, far better team than USA, Australia or Serbia, and Ghana has come through all of them to reach this point. Ghana has only narrowly lost to Germany, and Germany is a true top side,” the restaurateur states.
Owusu maintains “tactical awareness” will allow the Black Stars to beat the South Americans. “Ghana don’t play soccer based on a style, or formation, or whatsoever. They come in and read the opponent before they set up their own tactical approach to the opponent,” he explains.
But analysts agree it’ll be difficult for Ghana to stop Uruguay’s potent twin strike force of Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez. Owusu disagrees with them, exclaiming, “Trust my boys! They are doing it, and they will go further to do it, and possibly keep the World Cup (on) African soil.”
Ayew and Mensah are out …
The globe’s football lovers world have so far focused on the exploits of Ghana’s skillful star striker, Asamoah Gyan, in this World Cup. But Owusu says the team’s progress is largely because of another player.
“The most trusted player among them is (midfielder Andre) Ayew. He is the one considered as the hero and the favorite of the people, now.”
But Ayew, the son of Black Stars legend Abedi Pele, is suspended for the crucial game – as is key defender Jonathan Mensah, after they both received two yellow cards for foul play in the tournament. Many analysts feel this is going to weigh heavily in Uruguay’s favor.
Again, Owusu disagrees.
“We know Ayew has been playing a good part for us. But without him and without Jonathan Mensah, we still have the boys to do the job for us; we are not afraid of Uruguay,” he says.
“Ghana’s strength is that they are a team, not individuals. We have good replacements for all these missing people. Remember that people said before the tournament Ghana were finished because (star midfielder) Michael Essien got injured. And look where we are now!”
Indeed, the Black Stars are on the cusp of making history, and becoming the first African team to reach the World Cup semifinals.
“We really want that record. The Black Stars want to leave that legacy, and I know they will do it,” Owusu maintains.
Later on today, he says, all of Africa will be honoring the Black Stars, their hearts swelling with pride, and the humiliation of the other African teams’ ignominious exits from the World Cup will be “long forgotten.”