They appeared late and started slowly, but they’re starting to build up a head of African steam. The continents five representing teams are starting to get into the swing and spirit of the World Cup 2006, clearly reaching a high in Ghana’s Saturday display against the world’s pre-eminent football nation.
But let’s start the recap from the beginning: Ivory Coast, or Cote D’Ivoire, depending on where you’re from (it’s Bo Bien Na in Vietnamese) were not bad against Argentina, showing grit to fight back from being two first half goals down, with Drogba’s 82nd minute goal leaving it just a little too late. Their game against Netherlands showed more improvement, again coming back from two goals down. Bakary Kone’s strike left the game in the balance but an intriguing second-half stalemate saw the Africans lose in succession. They should be favourites against a totally demoralised Serbia and Montenegro.
In their debut appearance on the world stage, Angola took on the might of their colonial masters Portugal. Portuguese striker Pauleta struck as early as the fourth minute, leaving the West African team always fighting for an equalizer. Both teams came close a number of times but their finishing was poor. The Angolans fought liked the battle-hardened country they lived in and took heart from the Portuguse defeat, managing to hold the Mexican team, with one-less man on the field for a lot of the second half, to a goalless draw. More than fifty places below them in the Fifa rankings, Angola showed too much respect for Mexico early on and nearly paid the price, but when the game came down to a war of attrition in the second-half, it was the team from Africa who were in the frontline, decades of civil war finally paying off (wow, that’s harsh – I’m just joking – but one should always look at the positives!). With a berth in the next round still to play for, Angola should prove their salt against Iran, waiting to see what happens in the match between Portugal and Mexico.
Ghana. Oh Ghana. Never thought I would say those words, but they deserved all the plaudits for their astonishing display against the Czech Republic., finally breaking the African deadlock at Germany 2006. Despite a dismal start to the World Cup against Italy, these World Cup virgins started their second match with a renewed vigour and aspiration not seen before at this tournament. The fastest goal of this World Cup so far, in the second minute by Asamoah Gyan, clearly highlighted their intentions. I had just watched this eye-opening documentary on African muti, or juju as they call it in West Africa, and its influence and role in football on BBC earlier the day. Entitled Football Magic, a BBC journalist came to Africa to investigate the use of this “witchcraft” in football. The documentary explained how juju and “muti-men” played a large part in Senegal’s upset over France in 2002, Beckham’s broken leg when they visited South Africa and other strange football results in which African teams were present. The resulting match against the Czechs left me wondering whether there might not be some truth in all of this. Whatever the case, Ghana reinforced their entertaining display with a second goal – a screamer from 12 yards out by Muntari Sulley. Despite the great goals, what was most impressive was the midfield hold the Ghanaians had over the Czeck Republic’s world-class players like - Pavel Nedved, Karel Poborsky and Thomas Rosicky - spearheaded by their captain Stephen Appiah and the most expensive African footballer ever Michael Essien. Let’s go Ghana! With one game left against the USA, their chances look good of upsetting the books and qualifying for the next round.
Togo, seemed like being the first African team to record a victory at Germany 2006, after taking the lead against South Korea, but two goals in the second half from the Koreans snuffed those hopes. Tonight’s game against Switzerland (who, incidentally seem favourites to top the group at the moment after France’s poor run of form continues) may be a hurdle too high, but I believe that the early kickoff in Dortmund’s heat may play into the Africans’ hands. With Ghana setting the ball rolling, don’t be surprised if Adebayor and his Sparrowhawks claw a victory against his Gunner teammate Senderos’ Swiss.
Well, there are actually five African teams at the World Cup, with Tunisia completing the contingent, but because they’re so far north and only speak Arabic no-one actually considers them African anyways. No just joking, I have to go give class now so I’ve run out of time. Good luck to Tunisia though, who are playing the impressive Spanish tonight, they’ll need it. Yoh yoh yoh.