25 June 2010

know your foe - ghana

"Do you know what "nemesis" means? A righteous infliction of retribution manifested by an appropriate agent. Personified in this case by an 'orrible cunt..."

After beating Algeria in dramatic fashion in their final group match, the United States faces Ghana Saturday at Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg, South Africa. The multi-use stadium was site of one of the American's greatest victories, when they beat Egypt three - nil a little over a year ago in their final group match at the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup. 'The Revenge in Rustenburg' (stolen from the twitter account of Ives Galarcep) is also a rematch of the 2006 World Cup final match which saw Ghana defeat the US 2-1 to prevent the Americans from advancing out of the group of death into the round of 16. Thus far in 2010, Ghana is the only African team left standing after group play; finishing second in group D after beating Serbia 1-0, drawing Australia 1-1, and a 0-1 loss to zee Germans. The United States enters the match having gone undefeated in group play, and winning their group for the first time since 1930, drawing England 1-1, Slovenia 2-2, and defeating Algeria 1-0.

The word Ghana means Warrior King and was the title bestowed upon the kings of the medieval West African Ghana Empire which sits approximately 500 miles north of present day Ghana. Like much of the 'cradle of fucking civilization' the land occupied by Ghana has been inhabited since 1500 BC. It remained the Ghana Empire until the Portuguese came in search of, what else, gold, ivory, and slaves in the late 1400's. The Portuguese found so much gold that word quickly spread and they were joined by the French, Dutch, Swedes, Danes, and Brits. The French nicknamed the area 'Cote d'Ivoire' and today Ghana is bordered by the Ivory Coast. At one point the Europeans built so many forts along the Gold Coast that it contained the highest concentration of European military architecture outside of Europe. By the end of the 19th century only the Dutch and British remained and following the withdrawal of the Dutch in 1874, Ghana became a British colony. Following the end of World War II, there was an increased movement towards independence in Ghana, and finally on March 6, 1957 Ghana became the first democratic country in Africa to gain its independence. Present day Ghana encompasses over 92,000 square miles, has a population of around 24 million, and is the world's second largest producer of cocoa.

Having been inhabited by Europeans, Ghana was introduced to soccer in the 19th century. Prior to gaining it's independence the Gold Coast Amateur Sports Council was founded in 1952. Ohene Djan fought his way to power in the Sports Council and when Ghana won it's independence in 1957 he was charged with creating the Ghana Football Association. Under his leadership he created what is now the Ghana Premier League as well as convincing former Leeds United forward George Ainsley to become the National Team's first head coach. Since it's inception Ghana has appeared in 17 African Nation's Cups winning four (1963, 1965, 1978, 1982) and are currently appearing in their second World Cup Final. Their first World Cup Finals appearance, 2006, saw Ghana drawn into the group of death along with the United States, Italy, and the Czech Republic. The Black Stars lost their opening match to Italy two - nil, before beating the Czechs two - nil. Ghana and the United States both entered the final group match needing a win to advance. Haminu Draman scored in the 22nd minute giving Ghana a 1-0 lead. When Claudia Reyna went down in the 40th minute, and none other than Ben Olsen came on for the US, it appeared the Americans were poised for a come back win and in the 43rd minute Clint Dempsey notched the only American goal, and ensuing cha-cha, of the tournament drawing the US level. After the break, a phantom call on Gooch, in the 47th minute led to Stephen Appiah converting a penalty against Kasey Keller and a 2-1 win for the Black Stars. They lost in the round of 16, drawing group F winners Brazil and falling three - nil. Ghana's U-20 team exacted their revenge, beating Brazil on penalties in the finals of the 2009 FIFA U-20 World Cup.

Flag, National Anthem, & Nickname
The Flag of Ghana was designed by Theodosia Okoh to replace the British flag upon their independence in 1957. It features red, gold, and green horizontal stripes as well as a five pointed black star. The red represents the blood of those who died in the country's struggle for independence, the gold represents the mineral wealth of the country, the green symbolises the country's rich forests and natural wealth. The black star, also the team's nickname, pays homage to the Black Star shipping line founded by Marcus Garvey in the early 1900's. 'God Bless Our Homeland Ghana' has served as the Black Star's national anthem since gaining it's independence. It originally contained the line 'The gay star shining in the sky', however that was a little to homo-erotic for the Africans and has since been changed.

Frenchman Claude Le Roy led Ghana to a #14 overall FIFA ranking in 2008 before abruptly resigning to coach....Oman? Really? After a brief search for a new head coach, former Red Star Belgrade manager Milovan Rajevac was named gaffer in August 2008. As a player, he was a defender at Red Star Belgrade, capped by the former Yugoslavia and in the squad that reached the 1979 UEFA Cup final. While his appointment as manager of the national team was met with some skepticism, most fans calling for a home grown leader, and with his english skills so poor that he speaks to players through a translator, his stock soon soared as Ghana won it's first four matches under his watch with out conceding a single goal. His allegiances were called in to question when Ghana was drawn into the same group as his native country, Serbia, however a one-nil defeat in their opening group match quickly answered any questions Black Star's fans may have had.

The Black Stars are captained by US Nemesis Stephen Appiah. Appiah has had the arm band since qualification for the 2006 World Cup and converted the penalty kick against the US that ultimately put them out during the tournament's group stage. Appiah began his playing career at Hearts of Oak in the Ghanian Premier League before stints at Udinese Calcio, Juventus, Fenerbahçe S.K., and currently Bologna of Serie A. Prior to transfering to Bologna Appiah was a trialist with Tottenham, however, the Spurs declined to sign him after questions concerning his fitness arose. Appiah has long suffered from knee injuries, combined with his poor fitness he's only appeared in two matches for Bologna since signing in 2009. Despite this, Appiah has remained a main-stay for the Black Stars, earning 66 caps and notching 16 goals since his first team debut as a 16 year old in 1996.

Ghana plays very defensive-minded footie. Since his appointment as manager Rajevac has reversed their trend of conceding cheap goals and likes to pack the midfield, typically employing a 4-5-1 formation. He has at times experimented with more attacking and more defensive line-ups, and even the 4-5-1 tends to look more like a 4-4-2 when they are on the attack, but the emphasis is generally on the centre of the field. The majority of the Black Star's current roster were not on the roster that beat the US 2-1 in Nuremberg, the average age of the squad is a young 24. The most notable omission from their roster is Chelsea midfielder Michael Essien who tore a hamstring in December of 2009 at the African Cup of Nations and has yet to regain full fitness. Starting in goal is vice-captain and back up goal tender for Wigan Athletic, Richard Kingson. Kingston has appeared in 81 matches for the Black Stars and even notched a goal in the final minutes of a draw with Tanzania going end to end to head in a free kick by his brother, mid-fielder - Laryea Kingston. The defense is anchored by John Mensah (Lyon), not to be confused with Jonathan Mensah (Granada CF - Spanish Segunda), who is of no relation to "John Mensah", wears Jonathan on his kit to avoid confusion, and Hans Sarpei (Bayer Leverkusen) at central defense. On the right side former West Hammer, and current deuce teammate at Fulham - John Paintsil. Paintsil was heavily criticized after pulling an Isreali flag from his sock and waving it following the team's 2-0 defeat of the Czech Republic at the 2006 World Cup, leaving local newspapers to claim he was a "Mossad Agent"(Painstil played his club ball for Hapoel Tel Aviv in the Israeli Premier League at the time). At mid-field: Kevin-Prince-Boateng (Portsmouth) who grew up in Berlin and is a distant relative of West German hero Helmut Rahn who scored the winning goal at the 1954 World Cup. Despite playing for the German team at a youth level, Boateng was left off the senior German roster making him eligible to appear for the Black Stars; Nephew of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan - Anthony Annan (Rosenborg BK, Norway); Kwadwo Asamoah (Udinese); and son of legendary Ghanaian striker Abedi Pele André 'Dédé' Ayew (Marseille) who captained the U-20 Black Stars to the gold medal in the 2009 African Youth Cup. At striker Ghana typically pairs, club teammate of Carlos Bocanegra, Asamoah Gyan (Rennes) with Prince Tagoe (TSG 1899 Hoffenheim). Gyan poses the biggest scoring threat having notched 21 goals in 42 starts for the Black Stars, most recently scoring twice in the group stages of the tournament.

There is no reason to think the US can't win this match. Ghana has failed to score a goal in the run of play, relying on penalty kicks to score both their goals in group play. The question is whether the US can recover from the emotional roller coaster that saw them three minutes shy of not reaching the round of 16, and ensuing dog pile/stanky leg celebration of Landon Donovan's strike in the 91st minute of Wednesday's match. The US is completely capable of exacting their revenge against the team that sent them packing in the 2006 finals by pouring on three or four goals, but will we see the team that looked like world beaters in the second half against Slovenia? Or the team that got off to slow starts in all three group stage matches? Bradley will have the team ready, and I'm going to say the US prevails 3-1.


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