For the U.S., the difficulty in locating the small mid-African country the size of Oregon on a world map is apparently exceeded only by the inability to keep from being eliminated by its emerging soccer team, the Black Stars, in the World Cup.
For the second consecutive World Cup, Ghana has shown us the door leading from sport’s grandest stage. First 2-1 in Nuremberg, Germany, in 2006 and now 2-1 in extra time in Rustenburg, South Africa.
Playing Ghana is definitely for the burgs.
This time there was no phantom penalty to bemoan or villainous German official to point fingers at. There was just a one-for-the-books shot by Asamoah "Baby Jet" Gyan, who split two defenders, hurdling one, and then arched a game-winning shot over goalkeeper Tim Howard to marvel at and applaud.
If it had been elimination by Germany, Brazil or Argentina, that would have been less of a shock. Heck, even Uruguay. They have all won World Cups in the past. They are the elite, the upper crust of the sport.
Ghana was somewhere well down the global pecking order below Cameroon and Ivory Coast in the world rankings a month ago. Ghana’s highlight has been … well, seeing the U.S. show up. The Black Stars are making a scrapbook out of beating the U.S.
They knocked us off to reach the second round in 2006, which was their Kodak World Cup moment until yesterday, when they stepped over the red, white and blue to secure passage to the quarterfinals for the first time.
And to think, soccer fans were almost giddy when the U.S. drew Ghana instead of Germany in the round of 16. And maybe that was the problem. Perhaps, like its fans, the U.S. team was looking too far ahead too fast.
Maybe they didn’t appreciate how relentless Ghana—which we’re told means "Warrior King"—can be or the strides it has made.
Maybe they, like us, were taken by the glowing prospects for advancement that had been opened up by Landon Donovan’s dramatic extra-time goal that beat Algeria. The U.S., which came into the World Cup ranked 14th, had two teams below it, No. 32 Ghana and No. 16 Uruguay, standing in the way of its first semifinal berth in 80 years.
And Ghana wasn’t even the fifth-highest-ranked team from Africa. But it was the last one standing, the continent’s homegrown hope with all that came with it, after host South Africa was eliminated. And the Black Stars played like it, competing with a purpose and persistence from the first minutes.
The latter was something that eluded the U.S. much of this World Cup and, in the absence of another miraculous shot by Donovan, cost them. Falling behind just 5 minutes into the match and not being able to tie it until the 62nd minute seemed to take its toll on the U.S., which has never come back from a halftime deficit to win a World Cup match.
So, give the Black Stars their considerable due. They are still around and defending champion Italy and once powerful France are not. Wish the Black Stars well and let the celebrations begin in the streets of Accra.
Just, please, keep them away from the U.S. in 2014 when the World Cup comes to Brazil.