Black Stars dare to dream
Andre Ayew sat through the prematch news conference ahead of Ghana's clash with Germany and exuded a lot of confidence. The son of legendary Abedi Pele, always fired up and incredibly passionate, was the sort of player Ghanaians needed to hear from before such a critical encounter.
"What I can tell you is that tomorrow we are going to die for our nation and do everything to make our people proud,'' he said.
And that is exactly what Ghana did.
Against the three-time world champions --a side that had thrashed Portugal 4-0 in their opening fixture -- Kwesi Appiah's side stepped up to the plate in a spirited performance that inspired a lot of belief and pride in Ghana and indeed across Africa. It was a performance that ultimately fell short of a dream result as Miroslav Klose denied them all three points with his record-equalling goal, but that was never seen as a negative. The Ghanaians defiantly stood up to and took the game to the Germans in a display that reflected their intentions of not giving up despite facing a seemingly impossible task.
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The Black Stars were urged to surprise, to put on a show -- and they got it. Coach Appiah's men love to turn on the style when stuck against the odds. When the team filed out of the tunnel at the Arena Castelao, in what was the 800th game in the history of the FIFA World Cup, they had only one thing in mind, to go hard like never before. It was a show of commitment, confidence and perseverance.
"Germany are one of the best teams in the world, and we gave it our all," said Appiah, who is the first Ghanaian to coach the country at a World Cup. "I always had faith because we fight to the end."
They failed to settle for the often-pardoned mediocrity of sitting back against strong teams and went at the German machine fearlessly, without relenting. "I believe attack is the best form of defence, and that's what we tried to put into practice. I always believed in my players," Appiah insisted.
"We believed in ourselves," added captain Asamoah Gyan. Ghana fell to a German goal via Mario Gotze that could have easily ripped their confidence apart and frustrated their ambitions, but they kept going and believing, finding an equaliser that embodied that steely determination. When Harrison Afful's cross floated into the German box from the right, Ayew's leap to get to the ball ahead of towering Per Mertesacker and Benedikt Howedes was exceptional, a mark of a player bent on going beyond himself to do something for his nation.
Gyan's goal that gave Ghana the lead was his 41st in 80 caps -- meaning he had finally broken away from legends Kwasi Owusu and Edward Acquah as Ghana's leading career scorer. It was also the 28-year-old's fifth World Cup goal, equaling Cameroonian Roger Milla's record for most goals in a World Cup by an African. It also meant he had become the first African player to score in three consecutive World Cups.
But it wasn't the goal or its colossal implications that mattered in the end. It was the hard work leading up to the goal -- culminating in Sulley Muntari's instinctive pressing, tackling and interception -- that was striking. It summed up the team's fiery attitude on the day.
When Brazilian referee Sandro Ricci's final whistle went, there were a lot of positives to draw strength from. "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," defender Afful said.
That is true. Ghana go into the last fixture against Portugal with chances of qualifying as slim and diminutive as Afful himself. Indeed, they do not have their fate entirely in their own hands, as their dream of miraculously pulling an escape from this incredibly tight group will largely depend as much on their result as the one between the Germans and the USA, who can afford a draw that will mutually benefit them.
But Ghana can only do their part and hope. And to do that, they need to muster that same spirit that manifested in Fortaleza, that admirable fighting spirit. "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," Afful said.
The pressure to win will be immense as anything, but not making it through would be first group stage elimination in Ghana's World Cup history. "We should go all out because a draw is not going to be enough for us," Gyan said. "We just have to stay focused."
The Black Stars aim to fight till the very end.