Wide smiles return to Accra
ACCRA (AFM) - Ghana is known as one of Africa’s friendliest nations, but tensions have been running high after a pair of victorious but sluggish performances to start their 2008 African Cup of Nation campaign. The abuse at Ohene Djan Stadium during the 1-0 victory over Namibia got so bad that a pair of players - brothers Asamoah and Baffour Gyan - had their bags packed and threatened to leave the team this weekend, while the President of Ghana himself went on television to ask supporters and media for patience.

And though the local press continued to exhort the team in the run-up to the match with Morcco, so that the team could stay in their base of Accra, the side’s pair of first half goals on the way to a comfortable 2-0 victory in their final group match gave the crowd plenty of time to find their considerable voice and good spirits. The party started soon after Michael Essien 28th minute strike and continued in full flush into the half-time break after Sulley Muntari completed the scoring in the dying moment of the opening period.

“Amazing! These people could teach Canadian hockey fans about passion,” said 29-year-old Canuck Kelly Shouldice, at the match with a German friend. “They’re so high energy, and you can tell the game makes them deeply, deeply happy. They jump up and down and sing and hug. It’s quite a place.”

“It’s hard to comprehend from the outside how much it would mean to us if Ghana wins the tournament here at home,” confessed Accra professional Haruna Hussein between toots on his long blue horn. “We were a bit upset at the previous matches, but we are all expecting so much. It would be beautiful, wonderful and fabulous for Ghanaians to feel that kind of pleasure at the end of a successful tournament.”

Elevated expectations
The typical downs and ups of being a football fan are more intensified in Ghana’s case as the side emerge as a power on the world scene. With a quality second round performance at the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany behind them, and hopefully a win on home soil here, the local supporters could be forgiven for looking ahead to the first FIFA World Cup on African soil with Black Stars in their eyes.

“It’s very important for us, for real,” said teenager Jacob Oko Mensah after the match.
“This is a good team, and we are the host nation, so we need to win. And if we do, then there is nothing we can’t do. We are Africans and this is our tournament and if we are the best here, the world will have to come to our door to beat us.”

Beyond the dreams of football success, the play of these Stars has given a sense of excitement and pride to the average Ghanaian. It’s a pride amplified by the international renowned earned by players like Chelsea’s Michael Essien. And though most will admit that the side on display hasn’t been as good as the halcyon days of Abedi Pele, who led Ghana to their last CAN victory in 1982, they are not afraid to hope that it’s a role the young team will grow into.

Keeping the faith
“Look at our stars,” said a proud Isaac Agah with his young son and daughter (both wearing Chelsea jerseys). “We are as good as any team in Africa, so we can definitely win this tournament and that will make us all happy. But, more than that, I love the feelings here, right now. I can’t think of a better way to portray Ghana than with this nice stadium and positive atmosphere…

“Except maybe our footballers,” he said with a wink and a hug of his son. But, what of the rumblings of the first two matches?

“People were too hard on the team to start the tournament, but we’ve been looking forward to it so much,” admitted 22-year-old Enoch Paukwasi between screams into his cell phone. “But, we know football, and we know that the coach is just getting the team ready. We will be fine. This is the team, and they are united. And, so is Ghana.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by none other than national star Essien, who said with a wide smile after the match: “To be honest, I think we are ready to win this tournament now.”

And West Ham defender John Paintsil revealed that the joy of the stadium made its way to the locker room after the match. “The jubilation was fantastic,” he said. “So much pressure came off of us. But, not too much because we know there is a long road ahead of us. The press wants us to score goals, and they have been hard on us, but as long as we keep winning, we don’t care.”

All of Accra and Ghana agree.


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