Ghana’s Black Stars Disappear Under Uruguayan Sun’s Glare

3 07 2010

Uruguay 1-1 Ghana

(Uruguay advances 4-2 on penalties)

Uruguay v. Ghana in the quarterfinals seemed both an unexpected match up and a fairly neutral one as neither side has a large support in the city (although as the lone African side remaining Ghana was more likely to pick up some extra supporters). I decided to watch this one at a most neutral of venues, The Football Factory just south of Queen and Bathurst.

This is the place where two women can sit side by side, one in a Brazil jersey and one in a Netherlands jersey, and chat about the next game only hours after one friend’s side knocked out the other.  It’s the place where people bring their own vuvuzleas and blow them until the bartender jokingly says cut it out (I’d say it was about eight seconds). It’s a place where there’s an open stool at the bar and TV screens in every direction. In short it’s the kind of place for this afternoon.

For the first twenty minutes it seemed the crowd was as neutral as I’d expected as neither side scored. Ghanaian keeper Richard Kingson added to his resume (since he’ll be looking for a club to play for once the tournament is over) with a save off both members of Uruguay’s dynamic duo of Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez.

As the half hour mark approached the loyalties of the crowd became more apparent as each growing chance by the Africans was met with louder and louder applause and cheers from throughout the room as both John Mensah and Asamoah Gyan had shots end up on the wrong side of each post.

At the stroke of half time Ghana scored first. Sulley Muntari curled a shot from about thirty-five yards into the corner deceiving the Uruguayan keeper Fernando Muslera for a 1-nil Ghana lead. The decibel level shot up and the Ghanaian flags were unfurled. The crowd had a definite loyalty now.

Ten minutes after the re-start Diego Forlan continued his strong tourney (and strong free kicks, swerving one past Kingson) leveling the score with his third of the World Cup. Now the cheers for Ghana were louder. A pair of Peruvian fans joined the proceedings, one in a red jersey and one in white. If they were behind their fellow South Americans they weren’t making it known. They were just getting ready for 2014 I suppose.

The tension continued building as full time came to its dramatic conclusion. Suarez made his contribution, not by scoring but by deciding to play volleyball with Dominic Adiyiah’s shot on net. He was called for the handball and red carded. As stoppage time was coming to a close Asamoah Gyan stepped up to take the ensuing penalty. With what should have ended the game, with the crowd in the bar up on its feet for the final moment, Gyan hit the crossbar sending everybody into stunned disbelief. Suarez’s move, I have to admit was fairly sketchy, looked genius given how things turned out.

Extra time played out as the tension of the second half continued, leading to the unfortunate penalty kicks to decide which Cinderella story continued on to the semi finals. Ghana seemed to rush through their kicks in my opinion resulting in a pair of saves by Mulsera. Uruguay survived a miss on their first kick and scored on their last four to move on while Ghana saw victory in their hands (if not in Suarez’s hands) slip away. For the 1930 and 1950 Champions, their unexpected renaissance continues on as the Football Factory emptied out.


Black Stars Shine Brighter

27 06 2010

Ghana 2-1 United States

(after extra time)

Before finding a spot to watch USA versus Ghana I took a detour through Koreatown. As to be expected, there wasn’t much action about an hour after their team had been knocked out. Most people had continued on with their day and it already seemed like business as usual. A few youths in South Korean jerseys and t-shirts dangling flags in their hands were walking around trying to figure out what to do with the rest of their day. Given the country’s success in qualifying these fans can feel pretty good that they’ll be able to do it all again in four years.

Since most of downtown was fenced off for the G20 summit, I decided to stick around the Annex.  Ghana versus USA seemed like a fairly neutral game, although at the corner of Bloor and Bathurst there was a young man in an American jersey, so I’d go to any one of the pubs in the area to catch this encounter.

Pauper’s had it on with most of the first floor full just before kick off so this seemed like as good a place as any. There didn’t seem to be any contingent of Americans or Ghanaians, just people watching the game. Five minutes in and Kevin Prince Boateng picked up Ricardo Clark’s giveaway and beat Tim Howard for the early lead. There were muted celebrations around me. This didn’t excite or disappoint anybody a great deal. Was the goal too early and were people still settling down around here?

A half hour later, it was Ghana’s turn at a bad giveaway. Jonathan Mensah coughed it up to Clint Dempsey who passed it on to Robbie Findley but Richard Kingson showed some good reflexes and saved it off his foot. The claps and cheers for this were as loud as when Ghana scored.

The US came back from two goals down to draw Slovenia (and some might say they came all the way back and won it, but that’s for another day). In their next game they battled all the way until stoppage time to put away the pesky Algerians. This is a team that doesn’t know when to stop. That resilience showed again as they kept applying pressure on Kingson and the Ghana defense. Just after the hour mark Mensah and Demspsey came together again only this time it was a foul in the box and the referee pointed to the spot. Landon Donovan (who scored in the comeback versus Slovenia and was the hero in the Algerian win) stepped up and leveled the score after Kingson committed the other way. This time the applause is less than when Ghana scored. Maybe people are more interested in what they’re hearing through the grapevine regarding the rioting at the G20 Summit or maybe they didn’t think the US would win and the thought of the Americans in the quarterfinals isn’t popular.

Kingson seemed to keep Ghana in the game with a handful of clutch saves with his legs, feet and hands. He is without a contract right now so if any club is looking for a keeper he provided quite the demo reel.

After ninety minutes it was one-one so we had out first extra time at this world cup. Much like the first ninety, extra time started off in similar fashion. In the third minute Ghana’s main scoring threat Asamoah Gyan fought past two defenders to score his third of the tournament. For whatever reason opinion around here had changed completely in Ghana’s favour and people seemed quite happy. The US didn’t have a reply this time around and the host continent has a quarterfinalist. Next up is a date with Uruguay to try and go one step beyond Cameroon in 1990 and Senegal in 2002. I would think the applause would be greater for that then when they scored today.

Black Wednesday

24 06 2010

Germany 1-0 Ghana

Australia 2-1 Serbia

My afternoon was spent at the Dark Horse pub, a very English pub in Bloor West Village. It’s the sort of place that must have been in a very good mood earlier in the day. I say this because most of the crowd seemed to be holdovers from the morning dressed in their England jerseys giving stick to one of their friends about the current plight of Middlesbrough.

The setup is perfect as one wall has two big screens with Germany-Ghana on one and Serbia-Australia on the other and me sitting right in between.

Much like the earlier pair of games, it was all up for grabs as Group D concluded. Any combination of wins, losses or draws could put any of the four teams in the knockout phase. The sentimental pick was Ghana, as they seem to be the last of Africa’s sides capable of qualifying (although Ivory Coast may have something to say about that on Friday).

Johannesburg was the venue for Germany-Ghana and you could call the stadium Chance City as both sides were going for it, creating scoring chance after scoring chance. It was all for naught as they went to the break scoreless.

Over in Nelspruit, Australia kicked off against Serbia with both sides knowing a win might not be enough, they’d have to score a lot to help their plight. Tim Cahill, back form his red card suspension, took his team’s cause on his shoulders coming up with the best pair of chances in the first half. Like Group D’s other finale; this one was scoreless at the break.

In the second half the picture became a little clearer regarding who would move on. On the hour mark, Mesut Oezil volleyed home after a quick touch from a Thomas Muller cross that put the Germans in the lead. With results the way the were, Germany would be advancing to a match up with longtime rival England. The fans in the pub were licking their lips at that proposal. With these two countries having fought on the football field and the battlefield a few times which has led to some outrageous tabloid front pages, I can only imagine what the headlines of The Sun, Daily Mirror and News of the World will be like in the next few days as this match up was confirmed at the final whistle.

Back in Nelspruit Tim Cahill’s efforts were rewarded in the 69th minute with the game’s opening goal. Unfortunately the Aussies only had just over twenty minutes to score a few more goals. Brett Holman added a second four minutes later and it looked like we might have another dramatic qualifying grasped form the jaws of elimination. Marko Pantelic brought Serbia one goal back and pushed the Aussies to the sidelines as a 2-1 win in the end wasn’t enough for the Socceroos to move on. Africa is still alive as Ghana moved on as runner–up. I can only imagine what sort of support they’re going to receive as they have the hopes and dreams of a whole continent behind them. South Africa is now they’re home field.

D is for Death

20 06 2010

Serbia 1-0 Germany

Ghana 1-1 Australia

When the draw was made for the 2010 World Cup many labeled Group G as possibly the most difficult with Brazil, Portugal and Ivory Coast together with North Korea. The other group that had many thankful they weren’t included in it was D with Germany, Serbia, Ghana and Australia. So far after its two rounds of games Group D is living up to its reputation as one of the “Groups of Death”.

Serbia gave up a foolish penalty after a handball in the box, which was duly converted to give Ghana a 1-nil win. Germany kicked off against Australia and kicked them right off the pitch to the tune of a 4-0 thumping. How would the formbook play out the second time around?

Serbia kicked off against Germany and in the ensuing days off after their loss to Ghana they must have procured a copy of Switzerland’s playbook against Spain because for most of the first half their play was very similar to the recent Swiss defensive performance. The Serbians also had the benefit of Alberto Undiano as the referee, who had a penchant for handing out yellow cards. He issued six in the half for what seemed like little more than routine tackles. Miroslav Klose certainly thought they were routine tackles and was surprised when he was given two of those six yellows resulting in a red card. Germany was down to ten men after 37 minutes and without one of their star strikers who scores goals regularly in World Cup games.

Things got worse for the Germans a minute later. Serbia learned from the Swiss and North Koreans and improved the situation by scoring earlier than those other upstarts. Milan Jovanovic put the Serbians in the lead 1-nil. Germany came close (but not Klose) to equalizing when Sami Khedira nailed a shot off the crossbar in stoppage time and the half ended with Serbia leading 1-nil.

As the game approached the hour mark Lukas Podolski missed on two decent chances and there was a distinct momentum change in favour of Germany. In the 59th minute Nemanja Vidic must have heard wrong in the last post-game coach’s talk because he was called for a handball in the box. Germany was gaining the advantage in the run of play and now Serbia was committing the same error from its pervious game. Certainly this would be déjà vu? Podolski stepped up and nailed a shot low at the right corner only for Vladimir Stojokovic to guess right. Serbia hung on for the remaining half hour and pulled off the upset throwing the group wide open.

At this point you could say the only thing consistent for Germany is head coach Joachim Low’s “unique” fashion sense. No suit or team parka for him. No no. Low an his assistant have appeared on the touchline versus Australia in matching purple v-neck long sleeved t-shirts under black sport coats and against Serbia showed off a pair of rather interesting black form fitting cardigan sweaters. I can only imagine what will be on display from Low against Ghana, maybe something with a scarf and beret?

With Germany rapidly brought back to earth and Serbia brought back to life, Ghana took on Australia with lots to play for. As this was a Saturday morning I decided on a little World Cup brunch. I settled into my French toast (kind of fitting since it appears that the French are toast in this tournament?) and orange juice and before I had finished my bacon Australia was in the lead. In the 11th minute Mark Bresciano took an awarded free kick and fired on Richard Kingson only for his parry to land at the feet of Brett Holman who took advantage of this gift and gave the Socceroos the 1-nil lead The crowd was almost exclusively Dutch fans in their various orange shirts who hadn’t gone home or didn’t want to go home after their earlier victory on the day so the goal wasn’t really met with cheers, just a few muttered ”wows”.

As quickly as it looked like Australia might win, they were met with disappointment and frustration. In the 24th minute Harry Kewell was called for a handball in the penalty area and red carded. For Ghana it was a case of two matches, two handballs in the area and two penalties. Asamoah Gyan stepped to the spot like he did against Serbia and scored easily and we had a 1-1 draw.

On a day when Cameroon would later be eliminated you have to tip your hat to Ghana who remain the only unbeaten African side, but they’ve only scored two goals and both have come off of penalties. They’ll have to do better if they want to make a serious run at the World Cup. However, Group D is so tight right now they may not even get the chance to advance.

Not Quite What Was Expected

14 06 2010

Slovenia 1-0 Algeria

Ghana 1-0 Serbia

Germany 4-0 Australia

Two former parts of 1990 quarterfinalists Yugoslavia both kicked off their World Cup today. One dominated its qualifying group finishing ahead of France and wrapping up a spot in South Africa with one game to spare. The other had to overcome arguably stronger competition in its group in the form of Poland and the Czech Republic to earn a playoff match-up against Russia, which it won against the odds to book its place in the tournament. One of them managed to win while the other fell short and now finds itself behind the eight ball early.

Having qualified for both Euro 2000 and the 2002 World Cup, Slovenia are actually relatively experienced with recent major tournaments, but with population of just over 2 million (it is this World Cup’s smallest country) it is and will usually be seen as an underdog. Not much was expected of this team and it’s opening match against Algeria may just have been what the doctor ordered, rather than opening up against group powerhouse England or the dark horse Americans. Riding the wave that carried them past their Eastern European rivals all the way to South Africa, Slovenia took the lead in the 79th minute when Robert Koren fired an innocent enough shot on goal that beat Faouzi Chaouchi. In hockey terms we’d say “the puck had eyes” and this ball had eyes as it tucked in past the right post. Chaouchi probably should have saved it, and while I won’t say his gaffe was anywhere near as bad as Robert Green’s, it sealed Algeria’s fate with them already down to ten men with only eleven minutes left to play.

At the final whistle Slovenia was the first European team to record a victory in the tourney and thanks to the England- US draw now lead Group C. I’m not necessarily saying this team will go far, but Slovenia has been defying the odds for the past year and a half and today showed no reason why that trend can’t continue.

Serbia opened up Group D play with their match against Ghana. This group is one of the so-call “groups of death” so it was important to get off to a great start for both teams. For the majority of the game this evenly matched showdown seemed as though it was going to run its natural course and end nil-nil, however a handball in the box by Zdravko Kuzmnovic meant a spot kick for Ghana in the 85th minute. Asamoah Gyan nailed the penalty and Ghana had a one-nil lead it wouldn’t surrender, giving it and Africa it’s first 2010 World Cup win.

Coincidently, both coaches in this game are Serbian and having to beat his compatriots seemed to take a bit of a toll on Milovan Rajevac, as he hardly seemed happy with what was accomplished by his team. Already disappointed with the loss, Radomir Antic now faces an even tougher test going up against the Germans in what may already be must win territory.

I say must win because Germany looks as though it already owns one of the spots in the knockout phase from this group if its performance against Australia is anything to go by.

After the first seven games of the tournament we had yet to see a truly dominant world class performance. France had drawn, England had drawn and Argentina’s win was only one-nil. The only game featuring more than one goal was South Korea’s two-nil victory over Greece. As impressive as the South Korea performance was, Germany versus Australia set he record straight on what is a dominant display. The Aussies are quite capable of reaching the knockout stage and are a dark horse to reach the quarterfinals so they are no pushovers, but the Germans simply rolled over them to the tune of four-nil with four different Germans providing the goals. The usual suspects of Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski scored in the first half while youngster Thomas Mueller and Cacau doubled the lead in the second. With four goals against and lone striker Tim Cahill sent off with a red card there was never going to be an Australian comeback. Like the Serbs they now have an uphill climb to move on after steamrolling through qualifying and booking their place early on as well.