EarthTimes.org: Johannesburg/Accra – Ghanians were heartbroken but still fiercely proud of their team after the Black Stars, the last African side competing in South Africa, exited the World Cup at the hands of Uruguay on Friday.
“On Friday night, there will just be 11 stars visible – 11 black stars,” a South African newspaper had predicted.
But a cloud descended on Johannesburg’s Soccer City after Ghana fell agonizingly short of becoming the first African team to make a World Cup semi-final.
In the dying seconds of extra time, Uruguay’s Luis Suarez handled a goal-bound header on the line. He received a red card, but Asamoah Gyan – so often the hero for Ghana in the tournament – crashed the resultant spot-kick off the bar.
Ghana then lost 4-2 on penalties, ending their dream of reaching the semi-finals of the tournament, which was taking place on African soil for the first time.
“It’s a bit heartbreaking. We had this game,” said Abyna-Ansaa Adjei, a writer from Ghana’s capital Accra, as she left the stadium with five other Ghanaians, with whom she travelled to the tournament.
“But we are proud anyway. Viva 2014!,” she added as the group, which was draped in Ghana flags, burst into a chant of “Ghana Black Stars is a mighty team!”
As fans left the stadium, a youngster with his face painted in the red, green and gold of the Ghanaian flag, waved a placard scrawled with the slogan: “Who says black stars can’t shine?”
“They lost. We can’t do anything,” said Eric Akagni, 22, an amateur Ghanaian footballer, who came to South Africa to try to get into the local premier soccer league because competition at home was too fierce.
Soccer City was awash with Ghana flags and supporters tooting the tonal equivalent of “Gha-Na” on their vuvuzelas. Some 84,000 people attended the game, the vast majority backing the West African nation after the first-round exit of every other African sides.
When Uruguay missed a penalty, the crowd erupted, and some supporters covered their faces when Ghanaian players stepped forward to take their spot-kicks.
It was not to be, but the way South Africans got behind the team – referring to them as Baghana Baghana, in a twist on the nickname of the national team Bafana Bafana – made Ghanaians feel special, said Adjei.
While fans in the stadium were stoic, some elsewhere were left with a bitter taste in the mouth over the nature of the defeat.
“I’m not sad, I’m very angry,” said Sonia Kwami, 35, who watched the game with a group of five Ghanian friends in London. “I am very proud of Ghana … we played fairer and we played soccer better.”
Kwami was convinced that the ball crossed the line before Suarez palmed it away, and called on South Africans to boycott the Uruguay-Netherlands semi-final, set to take place Tuesday in Cape Town’s Green Point stadium.
Some fans chose to blame Gyan for missing the penalty kick that would have seen Ghana through. But most sympathized with him, blaming the pressure of an entire continent’s hopes for the miss.
“Ghana was so close to the semi-finals, missing it literally by inches,” one fan wrote on Ghanaweb.com. “Don’t blame the coach or Gyan. They made Ghana proud and the team is so young.”
South Africa’s ruling African National Congress also weighed in, praising Ghana for hoisting “the flag of the continent high” by getting to the quarter-finals.
“The ‘Black Stars of Africa’ have proven … that Africans can perform well in international football,” the ANC said in a statement. “We are proud of you (Ghana) as individuals and collectively … for the best performance as an Africa team, in this tournament.”