Ghana keep Africa's dream alive
World Cup 2010: Rustenburg
The reaction that followed Ghana's victory over the USA on a smoky Rustenburg evening told of the joy, excitement and, perhaps, relief that an African team remains in the World Cup.
Ghanaian journalists jumped up and down in the media area yelling "Africa" over and over and over, while several of the Black Stars players fell to their knees in prayer and goalkeeper Richard Kingson, excellent on the night but third choice at club side Wigan, raised his arms in thanks.
Down on the running track that surrounded the pitch at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium, John Pantsil did his familiar lap of honour with the Black Stars flag.
Not far behind was Samuel Inkoom, who waved the flag of South Africa. The gesture was in recognition of the support his team had received from the huge number of local fans inside the ground and across South Africa.
Most locals that I had chatted to before the game had expressed their support for Ghana but, even so, I was astonished by the sheer number of Ghana flags being proudly waved inside the stadium after the final whistle.
Make no mistake, Ghana's 2-1 extra-time victory over the USA will resonate far beyond the borders of the west African nation.
"It means a lot to all Ghanaians and Africa as a whole," said right-back Pantsil.
Ghanaian footballing legend Abedi Pele, whose son Andre Ayew impressed as part of an attacking midfield trio, was on the team that made Africa's presentation to Fifa during the bidding process.
"It is a wonderful night for African football," said the former Marseille favourite.
"People said we could not organise a World Cup and that an African team could not go far. We have proved people wrong."
I thought that Ghana, who became the third African nation to reach the last eight at a World Cup after Cameroon and Senegal, deserved their victory.
They had not scored from open play in this tournament and had failed to find the net more than once in a fixture in 2010. Their Serbian coach Milovan Rajevac had been accused of favouring overly defensive tactics with his 4-2-3-1 formation.
But against the States, the Black Stars approached the match with a power and purpose that their opponents seemed unable to resist.
Kevin-Prince Boateng gave Ghana an early lead and the Americans were being swamped in midfield to the extent that coach Bob Bradley withdrew struggling midfielder Ricardo Clark after just 30 minutes.
Ghana, with an average age of just over 24, surrendered the initiative after the break and invited their opponents, who equalised from the penalty spot, back into the contest. If the Americans had a clinical striker they might have won in normal time.
That Ghana do possess a top-rate forward in Asamoah Gyan proved crucial. The way he controlled a long ball forward with his chest and held off two American defenders before unleashing a rasping left-foot strike was an exhibition of classic forward play.
That winning goal came in the opening minutes of extra-time and an American team that had invested so much in drawing level proved unable to rouse themselves once more.
Several American players sat motionless in the dugout for what seemed like an age after the final whistle. Later, Landon Donovan moved through the mixed zone, where players answer questions from journalists, with the glazed expression of someone who has just received devastating news.
A few players talked about the four years of hard work that had gone into reaching this stage and I sensed a feeling of disbelief that they had blown an excellent opportunity to progress beyond the round of 16.
Maurice Edu lies motionless as USA crash out of the World Cup
It would be an entirely understandable emotion. The US topped Group C to move into what looked like the favourable side of the draw - Ghana, followed by a quarter-final tie against either Uruguay or South Korea stood between them and a place in the last four. All are below the USA in the Fifa rankings.
Uruguay have performed well here in South Africa and defeated South Korea on Saturday afternoon - but I think that most teams would be happy to play them at the quarter-final stage given that so many of the world's top teams remain in the competition.
Whether Bradley's team have wasted a glorious opportunity to transform the popularity and profile of the sport back home is another matter.
There has certainly been a recent groundswell of opinion to suggest that the World Cup was making a strong impression in the US.
Supporters of Bradley's team bought more tickets than any other nation travelling to South Africa, while ESPN reported record viewing figures for the 1-0 victory over Algeria in the USA's final group game.
Bradley received a call from President Barack Obama after the late goal against Algeria. Obama had been in a meeting with General David Petraeus when Donovan struck the injury-time winner, but he could hear celebrations all the way down the West Wing.
A story relating to Donovan's private life even made front page news in the New York Post - a sure sign that the profile of the game is on the rise.
"You are getting people who follow basketball and American football taking an interest and getting behind the team," said former USA midfielder John Harkes, who has been working for ESPN in South Africa.
"American fans always love big events. I think a lot of people were waking up to the World Cup and thinking it is pretty cool."
Yet the record ESPN viewing figures were 6.1m, which might be impressive for a midweek match that kicked-off at 10am on the east coast and 7am on the west coast, but hardly strikes me as indicative of a wide-scale surge in popularity in a country of 307m.
Several American journalists told me that the World Cup will help boost the profile of the sport back home but that it is unlikely to have been a game-changer.
The fact that former US president Bill Clinton was at the fixture is unlikely to have gone unnoticed in the US. He was sat next to Mick Jagger but I doubt whether he derived much satisfaction from the result.
While the US reflect on what might have been, Ghana will now play Uruguay at Soccer City on 2 July.
It looked very possible at one point that none of the six African teams at this tournament would qualify from their group - but the Black Stars find themselves just one match away from becoming the first nation from the continent to reach a World Cup semi-final.
And you can expect most of Africa to be behind them as they attempt to make history.