When the groups were drawn for the 2006 World Cup, the name Ghana drew indifferent shrugs from a sizable portion of USA supporters. After the success in 2002, Italy felt like the only real threat in a group which consisted of the Czech Republic and the aforementioned Black Stars of Ghana. In a must win, final group game for both sides, the Stars and Stripes were bested after a Stephen Appiah penalty sent Ghana into the knockout rounds.
Four years later, the two teams would meet once again in the round of 16. An early Kevin-Prince Boateng goal would be cancelled out by a second half Landon Donovan goal from the spot. It wouldn’t take long in extra time before Ghana would book their place into the Quarter-Finals. In the 93rd minute, Asamoah Gyan received a long ball through the air, was bumped off his path by Carlos Bocanegra, kept control of the ball, laid it down, and blasted it into the roof of the net all with Jay Demerit on his tail. Team USA and its supporters were left devastated while Ghanaians everywhere expressed their jubilation.
As a fan of the USA I was highly disappointed, yet for the first time ever as a sports fan, I had zero animosity towards the victors whom I was cheering against. The Ghana players and fans had shown a pride, and a will to win that I had never seen equaled on the international stage. I couldn’t be angry. I was happy for them. They deserved it. From that point I was enveloped by a curiosity of what made Ghana tick. From where do the players and fans draw their inspiration? Is there a domestic league in Ghana? How did they come out of nowhere and get so damn good? Do fans expect them to keep it up through 2014?
It wasn’t until about a year ago that I met Kevin Nanfuri, who is not only from Ghana, but is a huge soccer fan. With the USA and Ghana once again drawn together in the same group, I found it the best time to ask Kevin what it is to be a Ghana supporter and what his expectations are for the World Cup.
HTIOT: What are some of the main differences you see between American soccer supporters and supporters in Ghana? Do you think Americans in general are passionate about the sport?
Kevin: Football is the sport every Ghanaian knows from birth. We are real passionate about it, whether it’s a game between neighborhoods or the World Cup. Emotions can fly wild. On the other hand Americans were born into American sports besides football (soccer), and their passion for those sports are much higher than in football (soccer). As time goes the trend has been gradually changing and I see more Americans interested in the World Cup compared to the previous World cups.
HT: Ghana made it to the Quarter-finals of World Cup 2010. How far do you see them advancing?
Kevin: I see Ghana going as far as the Quarter-Finals.
HT: Who else advances out of Group G: Germany, Portugal or the USA?
Kevin: Germany advances alongside Ghana.
HT: In your hometown - or even Ghana as a whole - how optimistic are people? Do they share your enthusiasm and optimism?
Kevin: You still have a few pessimists because of the group we are in, but most Ghanaians are optimistic we will make it out of the group and further advance in the tournament beating all our opponents in the group. One thing every Ghanaian believes in, is our football capabilities, we have done it on the junior level many times beating the toughest of the teams such as Brazil, Germany etc so why not in the senior division?
HT: How are your family and friends preparing for the World Cup? Does everyone get together and watch games?
Kevin: Family and friends prepare by getting their jerseys, t shirts, flags etc and meeting at a bar, or someone will host a house party and we’ll watch the games together.
HT: How is the domestic league in Ghana? Is it more of an academy style feeder league that prepares players to move onto bigger leagues? Or is it a league that takes itself seriously and wants to become a huge force in Soccer?
Kevin: It is a serious league with a lot of talent, and potential, if more is invested in it. Big rival matches such as Accra Hearts of Oak and Kumasi Asante Kotoko shows you how passionate the fans get about our league.
HT: Tactical question for today’s game: There are whispers that Kwadwo Asamoah (Juventus midfielder) might be seeing time at left back. How do you feel about this? Is the Ghana midfield deep enough from him to shift to the back?
Kevin: I have to give the coach the benefit of the doubt that he knows what he is doing. We will have to wait and see if [putting Asamoah at left back] works.
HT: Asamoah Gyan played spoiler for the USA in South Africa. Aside from him, who do the USA - and the rest of the field - need to keep an eye on in the Ghana attack?
Kevin: The USA will have to watch out for every Ghanaian attacker. They are all dangerous in the box.
I don’t know if you sensed it, but some of the responses perfectly embody the pride and will I was referring to earlier. Not only does Kevin predict a run into the Quarters for Ghana but a full NINE POINTS in the group. To partially quote Lebron James: not one, not two, not three, not four, not five…NINE.
What makes it beautiful is that the optimism comes simply from faith stored in the players and the coach. Want to put Kwadwo Asamoah at left back? Ghana is behind you. The most dangerous attacker in the Ghana attack, you ask? How about ALL OF THEM. I can’t remember the last time I felt that way about a team I supported. Not a care in the world about what roster moves or tactics the coach would install; just win and I’ll be happy.
The attitude coming from the Ghana camp has always been a respectful competitiveness. They play for the love of their country as much, if not more than most other players. There is no OPTA stat for heart, national pride, or will to win. A stat nerd would probably laugh off this entire piece. What Ghana has is an intangible thing that has helped them stomp on moderate expectations and show the world they mean business. They’ve done it twice against the USA and are primed to do it again.
I’ll be fully equipped with my USA jersey tonight cheering the red, white and blue. Kevin will likely be sporting his Ghana jersey and cheering on the Black Stars. No matter what the outcome, the next time I see Kevin, I can safely say I’ll be able to shake his hand, have a good laugh and say "great game." There is too much admiration for any other response.
As a side note, can EA add the Ghanaian league to FIFA 15 so we can get some Accra Hearts of Oak and Kumasi Asante Kotoko derby action? Thanks.