Black Stars carry hopes of a continent into QFs

There were two teams in this compelling contest at Rustenburg.

Written by New York Times | Rustenburg | Published: June 28, 2010 12:58 am

There were two teams in this compelling contest at Rustenburg. As difficult as it was for the United States to go out in such a fashion,the importance of Ghana’s young,brave and ultimately undeniable victory has ramifications for the World Cup as a whole.

For Africa,a continent of 600 million people staging an event of this magnitude for the first time in its history,Ghana is now a lone star. For Ghana to field 19- and 20-year-olds and match the best qualities of the United States — in athleticism,stamina and never-say-die spirit — is what this tournament desperately needed.

As Africa’s other teams dropped out one by one,Ghana stayed strong. As America turned their greater experience to bear in the second half,Ghana had little option but to trust the one advantage they possessed: greater skill. The goals proved it. Kevin-Prince Boateng,a midfield player born in Berlin and only last month allowed to play for Ghana,his father’s homeland,left the United States defence standing as he burst through for the first goal,in the fifth minute. Having stolen the ball from Ricardo Clark,he simply pushed on alone,outpacing all attempts to stop him.

No Essien,no problem

His left-footed finish from 20 yards had the hallmark of a proven goal scorer. In fact,it was his first international strike. Boateng’s prime purpose is breaking up the opponent’s rhythm with stern tackles and perceptive interceptions. And it is a fair assumption that Ghana’s coach,Milovan Rajevac of Serbia,tells his midfield ball winners to stick to the job handed to them.

Yet in Boateng and Anthony Annan,both stepping up to the midfield plate in place of the injured Michael Essien and Stephen Appiah,Ghana have found athletes with a will to go all the way.

On defence,where Ghana again have had to thrust youth,the 19-year-old Jonathan Mensah is gifted but raw. His mistimed tackle on Clint Dempsey gave Landon Donovan the chance to tie the score on a penalty kick.

For the first time in the game,the experience and desire of the US seemed to discourage Ghana,who were fielding six players aged 23 or younger. The World Cup is no place for callow youth — unless it is youth of exceptional skills and advanced professional toughness.

Ghana have that in abundance. Last year,some of these same players beat Brazil to win the world under-20 championship.

Earlier this year,standing in after half the senior team were cut down by injuries,the youngsters played their way to the final of the African Nations Cup,losing that last match in January to Egypt. Ghana have the most developed youth system on the continent.

Emerging force

There is no shame in Americans — even Americans at the peak of what they might achieve in the sport — going out in overtime to such an emerging force. There is no certainty,by any means,that Uruguay,for all their toughness as a unit,will stop Ghana’s young bloods on Friday,either.

“We’ve done it before,” Asamoah Gyan said when a South African television microphone was shoved into his face after the final whistle. “Ghana’s one of the best of the World Cup — not for Ghana alone,but for Africa.”

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