Ghana--I joined some forty thousand Ghanaian football fans at the Ohene Djan sports stadium for a World Qualifying match between the Black Stars of Ghana and their Sudanese opponents two Sundays ago. In Ghana the buildup to this match was exciting, as Ghana could be the first African country to qualify for South Africa 2010 if it won that game, and if Benin and Mali played a draw in the other Group D match.
Two days before the match I had the opportunity to watch the Black Stars in training. They looked quite sharp and ready to claim the scalps of the Sudanese national team. The latter sat at the bottom of Group D with just a single point after three matches, while the Black Stars had the maximum of nine points (Benin and Mali had three and four points respectively). I was surprised by the number of people that had trooped to the stadium to watch a mere training session. The crowd cheered with every flick and piece of football trickery. The players responded well, beating the local side that they were training against by six goals to nil. Naturally, this result also buoyed up the expectations of the spectators, who looked forward to an annihilation of the Sudanese team on Sunday.
I arrived at the stadium with a couple of friends two hours before kick-off at 5 p.m. We had heard that lines had begun forming in front of the stadium ticket-office as early as 10 a.m., so by all indications, a full house was expected at kick-off. The mood outside the stadium before the match started was euphoric. People, clad in Ghana colors, chatted in the lines as they waited to get tickets. Vendors selling food and Black Stars paraphernalia were making brisk business both inside and outside the stadium. Occasionally, a vuvuzella (the infamous South Africa plastic trumpet), filled the air with its elephant-trumpeting-like sound: a sign that that Ghanaians were already thinking of how to celebrate what would be the nation’s second appearance at the World Cup.
Inside the stadium there was a strong security presence. Spectators were ‘frisked’ before they went into the stands. There, I was disappointed to discover that fans had failed to observe the seating assignments on their respective tickets; they just sat anywhere they felt was a nice spot. Before taking my seat I bought some kebab and soda. (One needs energy to support one’s team).
The match kicked off at exactly 5 p.m., and within fifteen minutes the Black Stars of Ghana scored the first goal through Inter Milan’s Sulley Muntari. The fans hoped that this goal would signify the opening of the flood-gates for more goals to follow, but this wasn’t to be (for the first half, at least). Thus, the first half ended with the Ghana up by one goal. Meanwhile, news reached the stadium that the game between Mali and Benin had ended in a one-all draw. Now, all Ghana needed to do was to win this match, and Ghanaians could start booking tickets and visas to South Africa.
In the second half, Michael Essien of Chelsea added a second goal for Ghana through a thunderbolt from outside the penalty box. The crowd was thrown into delirium as it became apparent that the South Africa 2010 dream was finally a reality. Some minutes later, three sharp blasts from the referee brought the match to an end, and the announcer declared that Ghana was officially the first African nation to qualify for the World Cup. The Vice-President of Ghana, who was present at the stadium, gave a short speech congratulating the team, and he was joined by the chairman of the Ghana Football Association, who popped champagne into the crowd. So, with two games to spare, the Black Stars Ghana booked their place in South Africa and sent their fans home to plan for the most important sporting showpiece in the world.