Ghana made it to the World Cup Quarterfinals, the only African country to do so. It’s also the highest an African county has ever placed in the World Cup (although several other African teams, have made it this far, just no farther). Ghana was the Hope of Africa, to make it past this ceiling that it has been stuck at before. Alas, we lost in what was very possibly the most exciting and nerve-racking sporting match I have ever seen, of any kind.
Natalie, my 20-something roommate, took me to the heart of Osu to take in the game. I was not as keen to go into Osu for the last game, since Ghana was playing the US, and I knew the spirited Ghanaian crowds, and was worried about being an American family (Steve and Anna had just arrived) caught in an unhappy crowd if Ghana was defeated by the Americans. So we took that game in the comfort and family atmosphere of our friends Adzo and Nii’s house, with their 1 ½ year old TK. Matt and Astrid and their 1 year old Ingrid joined us as well, so we all watched the game and watched toddlers at the same time. Plus ate some fantastic food, which is always the case at Adzo and Nii’s.
We got TK a “little vuvezela” on the street, which when blown sounded a lot like a duck quack. He thought it was great fun and got the hang of it very quickly. He could blow it out or turn it around and suck it in, and get a pretty good sound either way. TK was happy, happy, taking in the obvious party atmosphere of the big qualifying game and laughing this great half-giggle half-belly laugh whenever he blew his little vuvuzela, delighted at the sound he could make.
Ingrid, at just a year, was a little more oblivious to the game and just enjoyed a new place to explore, and following the hands that would steer her clear of the buttons on the TV or from going into the kitchen.
In many ways I felt like TK, heading down to Osu for the Ghana-Uruguay game on Friday late-afternoon with Natalie and my friend Carol.
I was excited for the spirit of the day, of being in an enthusiastic crowd, of just being happy to be here for this joyous event. Walking down into the thick of Osu, the crowd was exuberant, everyone greeting everyone with their Ghana t-shirts, flag wraps, and bandanas, blowing on vuvuzelas or using whatever noisemakers they had, and assuring each other we would win. The main street in Osu was closed to traffic (a big projector was projecting the game on a giant screen), so walking was easier than usual.
Also vendors were closing up so that they too could watch the game, and the ones that were open had plenty of business, so the usual aggressive sellers were not bothersome. We went to Duncan’s, an outdoor bar with food stalls outside, Ghanaian soup on one side, and what is known to those who have eaten there before as the best tilapia in Accra (it was!) on the other side. We got fresh grilled tilapia smothered in fresh peppers, ginger, and a mass of vegetables and avocado, served with banku, and eaten with your hands. (I usually eat it with a fork – but in the atmosphere of the crowd, I really enjoyed eating it with my hands, as is the traditional Ghanaian way – peel the skin, eat to the bones on one side, turn it over, and repeat until you have teased out everything that appears edible from the tasty fish). We ordered the tilapia when we arrived, around 5:30, and it came after the game started, so after 6:30. I was hoping to get it before so that I could
concentrate on the game instead of my dinner, but this long wait time for food in Ghana is typical – at least you know that what you order was cooked fresh for you, from scratch, which for me and my allergies to preservatives and many additives, is lovely.
So the game started, many in the crowd stood and put their hand over their heart for the Ghanaian national anthem, and it was a good, closely matched game. No score until the end of the first half, and then Ghana (Sully Muntari to be exact) did a beautiful last second goal and the first half ended.
I can’t do justice in my description of the crowd. We all screamed and jumped and hugged and yelled and danced – I got hugs and full-face screams from many people in the crowd, not just my friends. I screamed until I was hoarse. Outside (well, and inside) the vuvuzelas were sounding, people were riding by in cars, people hanging out the windows, Ghana flags being waved in the wind caused by the car. It was… fantastic. 1-0 at halftime.
In the second half Uruguay tied it, although the Black Stars played well, we had many almost-goals. The game was being played on the Uruguayan side of the field more than ours, although the teams were well-matched, neither side was dominating. It was exciting play. The game ended 1-1. Since this was a quarterfinal game, that meant overtime. 30 more minutes of play. Again, Ghana was the team making more of the shots. We almost had it, several times. Then, right at the end of the overtime, reminiscent of the sudden goal at the end of the first half, a drive, a shot, it’s blocked, a follow-up, it’s blocked, the ball is free in front of the goal, Ghanaian and Uruguayan players are all there, and then a beautiful shot, square into the goal… blocked by an Uruguayan player, not the goalie, WITH HIS HANDS. Seriously. Not allowed, a red card, guy’s out of the game. But there are literally seconds to go. Ghana gets a free kick, one player, one ball, one goalie, one net. One-on-one. The shot hits the top post and bounces wide. Overtime is over.
Again, since it is an elimination game, some team has to be eliminated. So it goes to penalty kicks – each team gets 5, again one player, one ball, one net, one goalie. The Uruguayans and the Ghanaians each make the first two. Still tied. Arghh, I feel like I’m going to have a heart attack from the excitement. Everyone is standing, we’re all on the edge of going crazy with victory, or… third kick Uruguayans hit, Ghana misses. Oh no. Fourth kick Uruguayans miss. Tied again. Last kick, Uruguayans go first. If they hit, they win, if they miss and Ghana ties it, we do it all again. Uruguay kicks, it goes in. They win.
We all can’t believe it. We just sit there. All of Accra is… silent.
After a while we pay our bill and walk home. Others are doing the same. The crowd is still large but we’re all streaming home, walking very slowly, shaking our heads. There are still so many people that we can’t help but bump into people. I can’t help but imagine what it would have been like if we won – a NYC Time’s Square New Years Eve kind of party like I really just couldn’t even imagine, because the reality was we were shaking our heads, sad, silently walking slowly, so slowly, back home. Later that evening, maybe an hour or two after the game ended, Natalie and I are back in the apartment, with the windows open as they always are to get the breeze, and we hear some music starting to play, an almost ever-present sound usually. Tonight we can’t even believe there is music playing, anywhere. But, there’s no shame, the Black Stars shined, and maybe in 4 years in Brazil they’ll be the first African team to make it to the semifinals, and maybe even take the cup. Maybe.