Ghana look to regroup from US loss
For the young John Brooks, it was a (literal) dream come true. For his country, the United States of America, it was a sweet eruption of joyful emotions, the priceless feeling of revenge accomplished.
For Ghanaians, it was an utter nightmare, a sharp dagger plunged into their very soul. The Black Stars always saw the U.S. game as a game they could win, as a game they had to win. For Ghanaians, a loss in that game would effectively mean game over in a group containing a strong European contingent of Portugal and Germany.
Being in control of a game for almost the entire duration is normally a good thing, but for Ghana at the Estadio Das Dunas in Natal, it was an unbearable roller coaster, an intense cliff hanger that could cause a nervous breakdown.
There was a deep, troubling fear of defeat, a feeling that a golden opportunity was slipping with each minute that passed. Andre Ayew's equalizer brought with it a sigh of relief that was accompanied by an equally huge wave of belief.
But it wasn't to be.
When Brooks rose above a haphazard Ghana defence to head in the ball four minutes before time, a part of every Ghanaian -- that held on to the staunch belief that Ghana would pull a surprise qualification -- died. Ghanaians were so hopeful -- some sure -- of a win that the absence of it caused extreme emotional reactions, some of which were largely impulsive.
The knee-jerk went into overdrive, and it was telling. After just two World Cups, Ghanaians had become so used to qualifying out of their Group, and this loss -- a harsh reality largely seen as crushing any qualification hopes -- induced a sort of pervasive withdrawal syndrome.
To many, the defeat signaled an end, a disaster, and the ensuing anger evoked had to be directed at the culprits. In an attempt to diagnose the loss amid the pain, coach Kwesi Appiah was thrust under the spotlight of razor-sharp vilification, bathed with insults, his competence questioned and his intelligence insulted amid an influx of millions of tactical suggestions that he could have used.
They never lied when they said Ghana is made up of 25 million coaches. Centre back John Boye, whose glaring lack of sharpness and positional awareness cost Ghana both goals, got his fair share of the bitter venom too.
The loss had been so hard to deal with that it had caused so much panic and tension, so much frustration and desperation.
The day after, following a disturbing report that Kevin Prince Boateng had indirectly questioned Appiah's decision not to start him, reports of an alleged player mutiny in camp broke in the Ghanaian media, and though it was vehemently denied by the FA, the mere fact that such a thing came up was a measure of how deeply the defeat had affected the team.
There was an interesting symmetry about the defeat too. Ghana's game began with disaster and ended likewise. U.S. captain Clint Dempsey's early goal -- at just 32 seconds -- was a manifestation of a strategy that worked to perfection for coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
The German knew when best to hurt Ghana -- when they least expected it. That time after the kickoff whistle blows when the team is busy trying to get the nerves to settle. "When we step on the field there, Ghana will sense the energy we have," Klinsmann had said in February.
It was all about making the early adrenalin count, about going hard at Ghana, capitalizing on the early game jitters and stunning them. And it worked.
The goal deflated the Black Stars' confidence like a pin stuck into a blown-up balloon. Amid the sweat of how to recover, the pressure mounted, but the damage had been done.
"I think that early goal was a disaster, it was unfortunate," Appiah admitted afterwards. "Loss of concentration cost us big time."
In reality, it doesn't look good going forward. For many Ghanaians, it is hard to see way a future that does not involve a flight back to Accra after June 26, when they play Portugal in their last group fixture in Brasilia.
Having seen group favourites and tournament specialists Germany thrash Portugal 4-0, the light at the tunnel is uninspiringly dim, non-existent maybe, going into the second group game with Die Mannschaft in Fortaleza on Saturday.
Amid the reflective questions and the blame games, Ghana know they have to put the mess of the scarring defeat and the chaos-laden aftermath behind. Mistakes have to be corrected, plans redrawn, the will to compete preserved.
"I can't say what's going to happen but football always throws up a lot of surprises," captain Asamoah Gyan says. "We have to regain our focus. It's going to be a difficult match [against Germany] but we need to stick together more than ever and play our game."
That is true. The Black Stars need togetherness and support in their bid to find belief beneath the rubble of this set-back. Subscribing to the view that it is over is realistic in the conventional sense, but unrealistic in the real sense.
At this point, most Ghanaian football fans should be desperate to believe that qualification is possible, but they are rather desperate to believe that it isn't. But that is the Ghanaian way after all. Even against the huge odds, everyone believes deep within, but there's a fear in embracing it. There is a silent wait for a surprise that lingers beneath the loud denial.