When Asamoah Gyan scored in the fifth minute against Egypt last month, the outpouring of emotion and adulation in Kumasi was immense. The crowd, nearly 40,000-strong, burst to life. Ghana’s fans showered praise down on their striker and captain. Gyan’s teammates, even those from the substitutes’ bench, flocked around him.
“It’s a great moment to remember,” Gyan told FIFA.com about his opening goal, a perfect shot from a tight angle that sent the Black Stars on their way to a resounding 6-1 win and put a foot into the 2014 FIFA World Cup™. “You can’t really expect such a massive result against a team like Egypt. We were hoping to get a comfortable win at home, but things just went right for us on the night.
“We deserved it,” added the 27-year-old, looking to line up at his third straight World Cup next summer. “The players fought their hearts out – everyone was fighting so hard. And the crowd were simply amazing.”
It was a rare accord between the Ghanaian faithful and Gyan. He’s about to become Ghana’s all-time top scorer; he’s short-listed for 2013’s African footballer of the year; and he's starred in some of the world's top leagues. But the striker has often attracted the ire of his countrymen on the terraces. He was criticised, taunted and jeered by fans during the 2008 African Cup of Nations on home soil. His missed penalty in last year’s African showpiece against eventual champions Zambia inspired more rough treatment back home. It caused Gyan to call time, temporarily, on his international career. The break didn’t last, happily for fans in Kumasi who saw Baby Jet back to his best form against Egypt. He scored twice in the rout.
“We’re desperate to get back to the World Cup, but we have to make sure we do things in the right way in the second leg,” he said ahead of the return fixture on Tuesday in Cairo, calling for focus. “It’s football, so anything can happen.”
There is a distinct whiff of caution in Gyan’s tone, and it is understandable. The striker, perhaps more than anyone, knows just how wrong things can go after looking so clear-cut. It was his penalty-kick that dramatically thudded against the Uruguayan crossbar in the dying moments of extra-time in Soweto three years ago, forcing a penalty shootout that Ghana went on to lose.
A cosmic silence
Inches and seconds away from making the Black Stars the first African nation to reach the semi-finals of a World Cup, Gyan slumped to the ground at Soccer City. His face wore a haunted look and the yawning silence that followed the rattle of the woodwork was cosmic. His teammates took turns putting a shoulder under Gyan’s arm, propping him up and guiding him down the tunnel, where he pounded the walls in anger and frustration.
“We’re in a comfortable position right now, but we need to totally focus on our job and make sure we do what we have to do to reach Brazil. We have to do things the right way in Cairo.” These are the words of a man who’s seen it all fall apart – a man who can’t take a five-goal lead for granted.
Gyan is a man on a mission. There is redemption to be had in Brazil next summer. His move to Sunderland in the English Premier League after the heart-breaking exit from South Africa 2010 didn’t last long. Gyan headed for the Mid-East and is top-scorer two seasons running in the United Arab Emirates top flight, where he plays for 13-time champions Al Ain. He stands head and shoulders above the competition in that desert outpost, 90 minutes drive from Abu Dhabi and Dubai. While he makes the competition stronger, one can’t help but wonder if he’s playing at the highest level possible, and rumours of a €20 million move Turkish champions Trabzonspor have begun to circulate.
Watching Gyan play, for the Black Stars or in Al Ain’s humble stadium in the desert, you can’t help but think the word ‘dynamic’ was coined just for him. Small and compact, he has the power of a coiled steel spring. “My football career is going well right now,” he said, a wide smile telling a story all its own. “At international level I couldn’t be happier with how things are going for Ghana right now too. I’m enjoying my life and I’m enjoying the game,” he added, a glint in his eye speaking of unfinished business, like a man with a point to prove.