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Monday, June 28, 2010

The New York Times' analysis of the Stars' victory

There were two teams in this compelling contest at Rustenburg. As difficult as it was for the United States to go out in such a fashion, the importance of Ghana’s young, brave and ultimately undeniable victory has ramifications for the World Cup as a whole.

For Africa, a continent of 600 million people staging an event of this magnitude for the first time in its history, Ghana is now a lone star. For Ghana to field 19- and 20-year-olds and match the best qualities of the United States — in athleticism, stamina and never-say-die spirit — is what this tournament desperately needed.

As Africa’s other teams dropped out one by one, Ghana stayed strong. As America turned its greater experience to bear in the second half, Ghana had little option but to trust the one advantage it possessed: greater skill.

The goals proved it. Kevin-Prince Boateng, a midfield player born in Berlin and only last month allowed to play for Ghana, his father’s homeland, left the United States defense standing as he burst through for the first goal, in the fifth minute. Having stolen the ball from Ricardo Clark, he simply pushed on alone, outpacing all attempts to stop him.

His left-footed finish from 20 yards had the hallmark of a proven goal scorer. In fact, it was his first international strike. Boateng’s prime purpose is breaking up the opponent’s rhythm with stern tackles and perceptive interceptions. And it is a fair assumption that Ghana’s coach, Milovan Rajevac of Serbia, tells his midfield ball winners to stick to the job handed to them.

Yet in Boateng and Anthony Annan, both stepping up to the midfield plate in place of the injured Michael Essien and Stephen Appiah, Ghana has found athletes with a will to go all the way.

On defense, where Ghana again has had to thrust youth, the 19-year-old Jonathan Mensah is gifted but raw. His mistimed tackle on Clint Dempsey gave Landon Donovan the chance to tie the score on a penalty kick.

For the first time in the game, the experience and desire of the United States seemed to discourage Ghana, which was fielding six players aged 23 or younger. The World Cup is no place for callow youth — unless it is youth of exceptional skills and advanced professional toughness.

Ghana has that in abundance. Last year, some of these same players beat Brazil to win the world under-20 championship. This year, standing in after half the senior team was cut down by injuries, the youngsters played their way to the final of the African Nations Cup, losing that last match in January to Egypt.

Ghana has the most developed youth system on the continent.

There is no shame in Americans — even Americans at the peak of what they might achieve in the sport — going out in overtime to such an emerging force. There is no certainty, by any means, that Uruguay, for all its toughness as a unit, will stop Ghana’s young bloods on Friday, either.

“We’ve done it before,” Asamoah Gyan said when a South African television microphone was shoved into his face after the final whistle. “Ghana’s one of the best of the World Cup — not for Ghana alone, but for Africa.”

They really do represent this continent now. They feel it, they know it, and they do not seem fazed by it.

Gyan, who shoulders the burden of being a lone striker in this team, scored the winner. He was aided and abetted by André Ayew, who has been the best and most creative player in Ghana’s World Cup.

If Ayew looks soccer smart beyond his 20 years, that is because he was born into it. His father, Abedi Pele, was one of the finest players to come out of Africa and one of the reasons Ghana started investing in training its boys in hope of holding them — or at least holding their allegiance once they move to Europe’s rich clubs, as most of them do.

Ayew and Gyan play for French clubs, as does America’s captain, Carlos Bocanegra. So when Gyan chased a long pass from Ayew hit over Bocanegra’s head soon after extra time started, insider knowledge was at play.

Gyan and Bocanegra are teammates at Rennes. Bocanegra knew he wouldn’t catch Gyan in a straight sprint. He tried to bump him, but with great strength of body and mind, Gyan still got clear and still managed to keep his balance. As Jay DeMerit rushed in vain to try to catch up, the Ghanaian used yet more strength to thrash the ball over goalkeeper Tim Howard.

It was the shot of a younger, stronger, faster man. The shot that finished America and liberated the hope Africans all can share. In a television studio, the former Liberian striker George Weah, the only African player ever to win FIFA’s world player of the year honor, was possibly a shade too excited when he suggested that Ghana is a team that can win this World Cup.

But Weah always did think the improbable. He once scored a goal for A.C. Milan by dribbling the ball past seven men of Verona in one mazy run. Africans of a free spirit may not know their limitations.

Source: The New York Times 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"Africans of free spirit may not know their limitations"

What was the writer thinking?

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