The climax of any serious football fan’s week is usually the day when his team plays. Of course the stakes are higher when that team is the National team. When Ghana’s national team, the Black Stars, travelled to Bamako a week and a half ago to face “Les Aigles” (The Eagles) of Mali for their crucial African Group “D” World Cup qualifying match, you could imagine how the twenty-two million or so passionate fans of Ghana felt that Sunday evening. The Black Stars had won their first out of six qualifying matches at Kumasi in March, but did so quite unconvincingly, registering a one-nil victory over the confident Beninois, who threatened their hosts all evening. That lackluster performance at home put many Ghanaian fans on edge. Many feared the worst would happen in Mali.
The Malians had every right to feel confident ahead of the game. Many of their players ply their trade for some of the best teams in the world, including Barcelona and Sevilla of Spain, Juventus of Italy, and many other teams in the French top division. Well, the BS stars also boasted of some top players such as Michael Essien of Chelsea, but traditionally, the odds have always favored the home team, particularly when the two sides are so equally matched. Being the true Ghanaian soccer fan that I am, my whole weekend was focused on the match, which was scheduled to be broadcast live on Metro TV, a local station that has secured the exclusive rights to broadcast all Black Stars games. I absent-mindedly ironed the clothes that I planned to wear for work that week while silently praying the power would not go out before or during the match.
An hour to the match, I decided that the Electricity Company of Ghana (ECG) could not be trusted to provide uninterrupted power through the game—and you can’t really blame me for my cynicism: the power had gone out for over 24 hours and had only been restored three hours to the start of the game (19:00 GMT). I then decided to drive to a pub where I knew that a stand-by generator was always at hand to brighten things up should ECG start their old tricks.
At 19:00 GMT, the Metro TV pre-match discussion panel informed the nation that due to “technical hitches” they couldn’t transmit the game, but “they were working hard to bring us the pictures.” Ghanaians are patient people, so we waited, and after twenty minutes of imagining what was happening to our dear Black Stars in faraway Mali, Metro TV finally allowed us to watch the match live, albeit the picture quality and contrast was very poor and the signal itself was quite patchy.
But the efforts and the tolerance of the Ghanaian people were not in vain, because the Black Stars beat the home team by two goals to nil, and thus strengthened their chances of a second consecutive World Cup appearance. The Malians were stunned, the Ghanaians spectators at the stadium, delirious. But in Accra the horns did not toot, trumpets did not blast, yet gratitude was still written boldly on everyone’s faces. Going into the match, a number of key regular players of the Ghana team were absent due to injury or other reasons, so there was a lot of skepticism surrounding the chances of the team away from home. (The Malians also had a couple of absentees, too.) Winning with two unanswered goals was certainly more than anyone expected. Relief spread over a nation as it inched closer to South Africa 2010. Each player pocketed $13,000 as a winning bonus for being gallant enough to pluck the feathers off an eagle in its own nest.