It’s hard to take your eyes off Charlize Theron. A tall, elegant blonde, the South African actress magnetises attention through her hypnotic blue eyes, high cheekbones and charismatic, enchanting smile.
Occasionally, though, the masses at the International Convention Centre in Cape Town, where she stood alongside David Beckham and Jérôme Valcke, conducting the Final Draw for South Africa 2010, would flash admiring glances at another monument of immense beauty: the FIFA World Cup Trophy™.
They wondered which team would raise it aloft at Soccer City on 11 July. Spain, Brazil, Argentina, England, Germany and the Netherlands were the popular choices; France and Italy receded yet realistic alternatives. Abedi Pele, if of the greatest players in the history of the Mother Continent, had a paradoxical prophecy. “An African team will lift the Trophy,” he vowed.
Realisation of that towering, invariably-ignored promise was in the hands of six teams. The three-time African Footballer of the Year did not possess the slightest of suspicions that, going into the Round of 16, it would rest upon the shoulders of the team he represented for 16 years as a player, has followed all his life as a supporter and recently as a father (his son, Andre Ayew, is Ghana’s first-choice left-winger).
That, however, is the case, for Algeria, Cameroon, Côte d'Ivoire, Nigeria and hosts South Africa all succumbed to first-phase elimination. That same fate almost befell Ghana – they pipped Australia to the runners-up spot in Group D on goal difference, while only an improbable late miss from Marko Pantelic denied Serbia a place in the Round of 16 at the Black Stars’ expense – but having navigated their way through the stormy waters of an examining pool won by a formidable Germany, Milovan Rajevac’s are eager to go far.
Ghana have cause for optimism. Their path to the semi-finals is not fraught with insurmountable difficulties, with the prize for victory over USA in Rustenburg this evening a meeting with the winners of Uruguay-Korea Republic in the last eight. Moreover, due to the fact that five of the Mother Continent’s representatives fell at the first hurdle, they have gone from having 24 million Ghanaians urging them on to boasting close to one billion Africans in their corner.
That includes the Ivorians and Togolese, with whom they have shared long-standing rivalries. That includes diehard followers of Egypt, who booed the Black Stars’ every touch in January’s CAF Africa Cup of Nations final. And yes, that even includes fans of their fiercest enemies, Nigeria.
“It’s amazing to have the whole of Africa behind us,” midfielder Sulley Muntari told FIFA.com. “Football means so much to Africans. Having the World Cup here is just incredible. It would have been nice if more African sides had reached the last 16, but we’re very proud to carry their hopes.
“The USA are a good side, they won their group. They play direct football and are strong. But we’re very confident we can beat them. We’re taking one match at a time but we want to go as far as possible to bring joy to our country and the whole of Africa.”
In-form forward Asamoah Gyan echoed the Inter Milan player’s sentiments: “It would have been better if other African teams had come through with us. But they didn’t and now it lies with us to carry Africa’s hopes. The Americans are a very good side, physical, full of running, and they play well as a team. Still, we know we have the quality to beat them. We’re not just doing it for Ghana now but for the whole of Africa.”
With that imprinted into his mind, defender and captain John Mensah is eager to keep the last remaining African candle burning. “This is World Cup and it’s the first World Cup in Africa – it’s hard to describe how special it is to Africans,” he said.
“We’re very, very happy to be representing our continent. All eyes are on us and we are ready to deliver. There’s no limit to what we can achieve – to do this for Africa would be fantastic. The whole of Africa is supporting us and we’re going to make them proud.”