Football enthusiasts in Africa and the world over will long remember the exploits of Ghana at the 2010 FIFA World Cup™. With the competition held on African soil for the very first time, the Black Stars did the host continent proud with a series of performances that have now catapulted them to 23rd place in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking.
Ultimately sent packing 4-2 on penalties by Uruguay after their quarter-final ended 1-1, they came tantalisingly close to becoming the only African side to ever reach the last four at a world finals. Indeed, the circumstances of their exit could scarcely have been more dramatic, with Uruguay’s Luis Suarez keeping a shot out with his hands in the final seconds before Asamoah Gyan crashed the resultant penalty against the crossbar with the final kick of regular time.
“The team demonstrated plenty of maturity and was very well balanced,” former Ghana coach Claude Le Roy told FIFA.com. “They played the kind of football that was expected of them. If Michael Essien had been there, I’m certain Ghana would have reached the semis. They lacked a player of his calibre.”
Boateng and Ayew catch the eye
Before their painful elimination at the hands of La Celeste, Milovan Rajevac’s charges gave a sparkling account of themselves, winning admirers as much for their sheer power in defence as for their audacity going forward.
The Black Stars began the tournament in the very tight confines of Group D, where they quickly displayed a talent for adapting to several different styles of play. After making light of Serbia’s combativeness by kicking off with a 1-0 victory, they followed up with a 1-1 draw against a conservative Australia team, before adopting a counter-attacking approach to tackle a forward-thinking Germany side. Despite succumbing to a 1-0 defeat in that game, the runners-up at the 2010 CAF African Cup of Nations proved capable of living with one of the strongest outfits in the global game.
This team has an exciting and bright future.
Safely through to the Round of 16, Rajevac’s men next found themselves pitted against the United States, losing finalists at the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup. It was a testing draw, but Ghana silenced their doubters with a near-perfect performance that began with an early goal from Kevin-Prince Boateng, whose emergence almost had supporters forgetting Essien’s absence. The Stars and Stripes clawed their way back to force extra time, yet Ghana went on to triumph 2-1, with Andre Ayew, son of legendary former international Abedi Pele, truly coming of age during the encounter.
Those results propelled the Black Stars nine places up the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking to 23rd, while boosting their tally by 74 points. Now, with the likes of Boateng and Ayew moving centre-stage, the road ahead looks to promise even more success.
"This team has an exciting and bright future,” said Rajevac after his team’s exit. “There are a lot of good young players who can go on to form the core of the team for 2014. And although the way we lost was painful and still rankles, this adventure will prove to be a great experience for the players. They have the potential to achieve great things.”
Equally pleasing for supporters were the contributions of a number of players who have long remained in the shadows, such as Anthony Annan, Prince Tagoe and Kwadwo Asamoah. With those talents coming to the fore alongside the generation of players who won the 2009 FIFA U-20 World Cup Egypt – including Samuel Inkoom, Jonathan Mensah, Ayew and Dominic Adiyiah – the team now ranked second in Africa will be looking to surge ahead of continental top guns Egypt. They must also harbour hopes of bettering their highest ever global standing of 14th, achieved in February 2008.
The Black Stars will begin their pursuit of those targets on 11 August, when they return to the scene of their recent exploits to face South Africa in a friendly at Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg. That fitting encounter ought to serve as ideal preparation for their 2012 African Cup of Nations qualifying campaign, in which they face fellow Group I contenders Sudan, Congo and Swaziland. Beyond that, Ghana will be eyeing nothing short of the continental crown itself.