Sunday, May 18, 2014

Meet the Team: Ghana

Nickname: The national symbol, from the flag to the football squad is The Black Star. All the optimism, hope and aspiration of repatriated Africans, none of the mail-fraud baggage.

Star: The spread of Ghanaian players around the world (not to mention Ghanaian men and women whose children still link to their homeland) gives them a wealth of options for this title. Largely speaking the title flows through the playmaking midfielders that made Ghana "the Brazil of Africa". If that's the case, this year's star ought to be Kwadwo Asamoah who stars for Juventus and the national side--serving as the cohesive glue for the more aged (Michael Essien) and more mercurial (Kevin-Prince Boateng)

Hip-Star: Forget the fixation on Ghanaians born and raised in "traditional" soccer powers. Norweigean born and bred Adam Larsen Kwarasey has even more experience with European standards playing for Strømsgodset, and actually knows where to get the real lutefisk rather than that bland touristy stuff. A good thing too as he needs a strong stomach to face the scoring prowess of Germany, Portugal and the USA.

Worst. Thing. Ever.
X-Factor: If there's one thing to make Ghanaian players and fans go all wobbly it's the ominous threat of penalty kicks. Ever since the Uruguayan equivalent of the "hand of god" by Luis Suarez" Ghana has seem to see their dreams undone by the devilish PK. Asamoah Gyan shanked the shot at the semi's in 2010; this past February, it happened again in a shoot of the finals against Libya at the African Cup of Nations. Mercifully there are no shootouts in the first round, but anytime the ref points to the spot--Ghanaian hearts will go up to their throats

Coach: After relying on a pair of Eastern Europeans to lead them to glory for the previous 8 years, the GFA turned to a local, James Kwesi Appiah to run the show in the run-up to 2014. A move that was hailed far and wide as the next step to African footballing independence paid off as Appiah will be the first African born coach to roam the sideline of a World Cup. He's got a great relationship with his players but far less experience than any of his Group G rivals.

History: While Ghana trails only Egypt in continental titles, success on the World's biggest stage was harder to come by. Despite some legendary squads, they only debuted in 2006, but rapidly rose to prominence, making the second round that year and the quarterfinals in 2010 (whence began the curse of Suarez--see "X-Factor above)

Silver Foxes on the Prowl
Food: It may be a little too hot this summer to enjoy a well seasoned Nkatekwan (peanut soup), but as long as we're outside grilling a pile of sausages I'm going to have some kƆkƆ a y'ato (charcoal roasted sweet plantains)

 I'm a sucker for mocking dictators, the scandal ridden and those who just don't know when to quit. And for that I thank god for Jerry Rawlings, the ex-Air Force commander, ex-coup leader (twice), ex-president (twice) who is Ghana's answer to Bill Clinton only with snarkier comments on current governments and less libido. Of course, he's still a lionized leader in West Africa (and with reason), but his potshots at anyone else who runs the country have to be taken with a coup-sized grain of salt.

Best Case: Ghana goes one better. Ever the optimistic squad, they can top the US with ease and with a result against Portugal stand a great chance of moving on. From there a weak Group H should pose little threat and a stunner against Argentina would be sweet justice for four years ago. A semi-final spot at last, that's the dream.

Worst Case: The aging lions of the golden generation look toothless, just like the babes-in-arms known as the Ayew brothers. Three offensively potent teams exploit an inexperienced defense, and captain/striker Asamoah Gyan misses penalties in every single match.

My prediction: I'm a sucker for Ghana, and in my "In It But Win It" profile, I predicted their run to a semi-final. Once the draw came, I couldn't do it anymore. I think they still own the US, still struggle with Germany and as much as I want them to best Portugal, I just can't see it happening. Please, oh please, let me be wrong. 3rd Place--3 points.

Added Bonus: Fun fact--teaching in a Ghanaian English class there was an adjective worksheet on sounds including this sentence: "The hip-hop concert was too _____". Teachers expected "loud", every sheet I saw said "fun". One of the biggest reasons behind that might be Sarkodie and his song: "Illuminati"--all the swagger of US hip-hop, but the language of the nation

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