There were just five minutes remaining of an electrifying encounter between Ghana and Germany. The two sides had left no inch of turf uncovered at Estadio Castelao and the score was locked at 2-2. Yet despite the heat and humidity in Fortaleza - strength-sapping conditions for any player - there was one man who continued to charge around the pitch, dashing back to win the ball before roaring upfield again to send in a dangerous cross.
That man was Ghana No23 Harrison Afful, who had been patrolling the Black Stars’ right flank all match long yet still seemed to have more pace and energy than any of the other 21 players on the field. A relatively unknown name on the global scene, performances like this at the 2014 FIFA World Cup™ mean Afful is unlikely to remain in the shadows for much longer.
How, you might ask, can such a phenomenal athlete have stayed below the radar for so long, particularly at nearly 28 years of age? The answer is simple: Afful has never played in European football. He has not lacked offers, but the all-action wing-back has instead preferred to continue with Tunisian giants Espérance Sportive de Tunis, where he has spent the past four years.
“I’ve had offers, but I didn’t feel they were right for me,” said a smiling and refreshingly humble Afful, speaking to FIFA.com after the Germany game. “I’m happy in Tunis and they’ve always treated me very well, I wouldn’t want to leave just for the sake of trying something new. That said, if an interesting opportunity does come my way, of course I’d consider it,” he added with a glint in his eye.
Hope still intactOf course, the versatile defender has more strings to his bow than merely speed and stamina. Citing a never-say-die attitude as a further strength, Afful's technical quality is remarkable too, as demonstrated when he sent in the pinpoint cross that enabled Andre Ayew to head Ghana level at 1-1.
“It [fighting spirit] is part of me. If I wasn’t like that, I wouldn’t be myself,” said the diminutive dynamo. “Ever since I was very young I’ve been quick and I’ve always liked having the ball, so when I’m near it I have to go looking for it. What’s more, I really love my country and my team-mates, so I’ll never stop giving everything I’ve got to help them.”
How does Afful see Ghana’s chances of progressing from Group G, now that their destiny is not solely in their hands? “It’s a shame we couldn’t win today. It would have been great to take all three points. But we ran ourselves into the ground and played really well against a team of the calibre of Germany,” he said, before signing off with a vow to all Black Stars’ followers. “We’ve still got a game to go and we’re going to give it our all to go through. If we don’t qualify, it won’t be for lack of effort.”