Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Black Stars

This past Saturday, Ghana surprised the world, and foremost itself, by beating the second-ranked team, the Czech Republic, 2-0 in the first round of the World Cup. I suppose that Saturday was the day of the underdog, with the Edmonton Oilers also upsetting the dominant Carolina Hurricanes 4-0. However, I suspect that the implications of Ghana’s win are more far-reaching and profound.

After Ghana’s disappointing 2-0 loss to Italy the Monday night before, Ghanaian hopes were not high for a victory on Saturday. Most people I spoke to about the forthcoming Czech showdown would shake their heads slowly and say, “It will be difficult.”

But Ghana’s very spot in the World Cup – its first ever – is a source of pride for many people here. Ghana is among three West African countries (the other two are Togo and Cote D’Ivoire) to make the cut, and among five African nations in total (Angola and Tunisia being the others).
Ghana has found its way to the world’s stage, in this planet’s biggest and arguably most famous sporting tournament. Tiny Ghana is playing on the same fields as the world’s most developed nations – the same fields where the United States, Germany and France are facing off against opponents. To have made it to a select group of 32 teams world-wide is certainly something to make a country’s people smile – especially when the country sometimes feels it can’t hold its own on other international stages.

With a ranking of 138 on the United Nations’ Human Development Index (Canada is 5th), and with a constant bombardment of images of Western world ostentation pouring in through the information channels of an ever interconnected world, it’s not difficult to understand how some people here could have developed an inferiority complex.

I’ve had more than one conversation with people here who have claimed the superiority of the Western nations. One friend, a mechanic, told me that “the white man is never a fool” (as a side note, I’ve made it my mission to personally prove him wrong. It shouldn’t take too much effort). He was referring to the advanced German engines he’d occasionally see in cars – engines he lacked even the proper tools, let alone the mechanical know-how, to fix.

That’s why Ghana’s participation in the World Cup is so meaningful – it’s giving this little African nation the chance to shine on an equal global playing field.

And on Saturday, Ghana’s Black Stars shone with an incredible intensity. With their first goal only 70 seconds into the game, my Tamale neighbourhood erupted into cheers – I was reminded of my dad’s stories about his apartment block exploding in excitement at Paul Henderson’s last-minute goal against the Russians in 1972 – and I was given another taste of Ghanaian pride. This is the same pride and excitement I’d seen at the Independence Day celebrations back on March 6, and it was just as refreshing.The emotions continued to run high as Ghana dominated the game, firmly controlling the ball with superb mid-field playing, and intense rushes at the Czech’s net. Their persistence finally paid off again late in the second half, and Ghana secured its victorious position.

The Tamalean streets detonated with a rush of jubilance after the final whistle. Youths paraded through the dusty streets, with ad-hoc homemade drums, shouts of “Ghana!” and dozens of car and motorbike horns providing the percussion to their movement. Just as it had been impossible not to clench our fists and jump from our seats at each Ghanaian goal or near-goal, it was impossible not to join in the fray. My friends Louis and Robin and I jumped with the kids, danced among them, and shouted “2 nil!” until our voices were hoarse and our ankles aching.

And after the match, history had been revised somewhat. The mood was retroactively optimistic, as though Ghana’s win was a foregone conclusion reached long ago. Ghana’s strength – ever-present but perhaps sometimes called into question – had been revealed clear as day.
“It’s really bringing the country closer,” says my house brother, Samed. When asked if he had faith in his team beforehand, he responds: “For real! I knew we were going to win.”

(Note:I wrote this last night. Today, Ghana beat the United States 2-1, securing their spot in the next round of the World Cup. It’s quite the time to be in Ghana!)

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Steve-o said...

Oh, sport! Isn't this what makes international sports so exciting? It doesn't matter how large a nation, how developed, or how much history in the sport it has. Whenever two nations step on a field they are equals, with nothing but skill and desire to separate them.

World Cup fever (along with symptoms of madness) has officially taken over Toronto, with every little ethnic ghetto going crazy in support of its nation's team. I'm secretly cheering for Ghana, although I've yet to actually watch one of their games. I wonder if there's a Ghanian ghetto anywhere in T.O. I can go catch a game, and establish once and for all that the white man (watching sports and imbibing alcohol) is invariably a fool!

Bruce said...

Go Ghana!

Tomato said...

Go Ghana.

I hope they crush Brazil. It will certainly make my neighbourhood more quieter. :D

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