After months of hype, the day is finally here. Ghana will face the U.S. in one of the World Cup’s most highly anticipated matches. For Ghanaians, this game means more than facing the Americans for the third straight time in the World Cup. It’s about firmly stamping itself as a legitimate contender in the tournament and becoming a potential power when it comes to international soccer.
As a Ghanaian-American, growing up I didn’t hear positive things about the Black Stars. My uncles and father spoke about how they always were one of the biggest underachievers in the world and that they could never live up to expectations. At that point in time, they were correct as Ghana had never played in the World Cup and was still in a drought of winning the African Cup of Nations as they hadn’t been champions since 1982. Plenty of fans of the Blacks Stars were upset with Freddy Adu when he chose to represent the U.S. over his native country of Ghana but you couldn’t blame him because they were a much better side then. And in 2002, the US made it to the quarterfinals of the World Cup where they lost 1-0 to Germany.
The four-time African Cup of Nations winners debuted in the 2006 World Cup and were in Group E, which featured the Czech Republic, Italy and the United States. They had the youngest team in Germany that year with an average age of 23 years and 352 days. After losing 2-0 in their first match to Italy, they beat the Czech Republic 2-0 and the U.S. 2-1 to make it out the group stage. In the round of 16, a Brazil 3-0 loss saw them knocked out. In the process of their drubbing, legendary striker Ronaldo broke German icon Gerd Muller’s World Cup goalscoring record to reach 15 goals in the globe’s biggest sporting tournament.
In 2010, the World Cup saw Ghana return with a more athletic team and youngsters that just came from winning the U-20 World Cup over Brazil in penalties the previous year in Egypt. With a staunch defense and counterattacking attack that saw striker Asamoah Gyan score two goals, both penalties, the Blacks Stars advanced due to goal difference and would face the Americans once again. With the whole continent supporting Ghana in South Africa, they powered through and defeated the five-time CONCACAF Gold Cup champions 2-1 in extra time thanks to a goal from Gyan. In their quarterfinal, they played a match against Uruguay that will forever live in infamy. Luis Suarez’s handball and red card were followed by a Gyan penalty miss and eventual penalty shootout loss that will haunt the squad forever as they lost the chance to be the first African nation to play in the semifinals of the World Cup. The milestone would’ve made bigger headlines because it was going to be accomplished in the first World Cup played in Africa.
The loss continues to have a residual effect because of the tragedy that occurred last year. Gyan lost his mother in a car crash last November and before she passed away, he made a promise to his mom that he would have a huge impact on his confidence for the future.