African viewpoint: Black Star blues

Ghanaian football fan - Accra, 2 July 2010 Ghanaian fans were on edge when their team played Uruguay in the World Cup quarter-final

In our series of viewpoints from African journalists, Ghanaian Elizabeth Ohene reflects on a painful end to her country's hopes of World Cup glory.

And so the dream ended. It was the very loud silence that brought me the news.

I could not and did not watch the penalty kick taken by Asamoah Gyan in the dying minutes of extra time.

The haunting, aching silence that suddenly enveloped Accra told me he had missed the target. I wish I could say that it does not hurt; but it does hurt so badly.

I know it is only a game but that really annoys me. Of course it is a game but what do people mean when they say it is ONLY a game?

So much was hanging on this match.


I remember Germany 2006 and the day the Black Stars defeated the Czech Republic in the group stages of the World Cup.

The one word you heard more than any once you looked vaguely Ghanaian was "respect".

For one brief moment, it did not matter that our GDP was less than $1,000 per capita.

It did not matter that 30% of our development budget was funded by donors.

Ghanaian football fan - Accra, 2 July 2010 Ghana's footballing success brought the country respect

It did not matter that only 40% of our population have toilets at home. The patronising tone disappeared.

People wanted to know what Ghana exports. A couple from the Czech Republic asked me at breakfast in the hotel which airlines flew to Ghana and if there were deals they could get for short breaks.

People asked me about the music that young people danced to and how many political parties there were in the country.

I had to give away so many Ghana T-shirts and scarves and flags, I was in danger of not having any to take to the next match.

Did it last, I hear you ask.

In a lifetime of travelling around the world and living among the British, never had there been a two-week period when I was asked so many genuinely "normal" questions about Ghana.

A few more of these two-week periods and I was sure they would not need to use the word "respect", it would come naturally. It was more than a game

This time around, it was more critical.

The South Africans had done everything Fifa had asked of them and more. The facilities were excellent; knowledgeable, passionate crowds were attending the matches and cheering the teams.

Fans of Ghana's football squad cheered as they watched the 2010 World Cup match Ghana v Australia in Yeoville, a suburb of Johannesburg - 19 June 2010

And still you could detect from the world's media this feeling that South Africa, or Africa as they preferred to call it, had gatecrashed their party.

Awesome burden

The connoisseurs and experts told us the six African teams would not make it out of the group stages. A combination of bad luck and the curse of bad governance ensured that five of the six teams indeed crashed out.

The burden that Ghana carried was awesome, and one could feel the dead weight in Accra. Maybe it was unfair to place such a heavy burden on 23 young men but they did us proud.

I have heard some say that Asamoah Gyan was selfish and that is why he insisted on taking that penalty - that it was the lure of becoming a candidate for the Golden Boot award for scoring the most goals in the tournament that led to his missing that crucial kick.

And yet was it not him that had picked the two earlier penalties that had brought the Black Stars to the quarter finals?

And who was ever going to forget that magnificent goal he scored against the USA in extra time?

Ghanaian striker Asamoah Gyan - Johannesburg, 2 July 2010 Ghanaian striker Asamoah Gyan missed the crucial penalty against Uruguay

But why am I hurting so much? Why does it matter that the Black Stars did not make it into the semi-finals as I had predicted on this site at the beginning of the year?

It matters desperately that one African team should have made it into the semi-finals at the very least.

Would that have meant that Africa would suddenly gain the respect of the world? Would that have eradicated or lowered the level of poverty on the continent?

Maybe not, probably not, but in what other area of human endeavour has the happiness (however temporary) of an entire continent hung on the performance of 11 young men on a pitch?

It gives me no pleasure and my hurt is in no way diminished by the fact that the Black Stars should have been awarded what was a clear goal rather than a penalty kick.

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