USA vs. Ghana: Ghana carries the hopes of a continent on its shoulders

Ghana's Black Stars are Africa's last remaining team in the World Cup. A win against the United States would take them through to the quarter-finals.

Ghana's team warms up on Friday on the eve of their match against the USA at the Mogwase training ground on the outskirts of Rustenburg, South Africa. Ghana is the last remaining African team in the 2010 World Cup.

There is something fitting about Ghana carrying the hopes of a continent on its shoulders.

The Black Stars are flying the flag for Africa as the continent's last remaining team in the World Cup. A win against the United States in Rustenburg would take them through to the quarter-finals, equaling the achievement of Cameroon in 1990 and Senegal in 2002.

Off the pitch too, Ghana has become a flag-bearer for a continent.

Elections held in 2008 ran smoothly despite the government candidate losing by the narrowest of margins. There was no attempt to rig the vote, nor was there a refusal to hand power over to the opposition – a marked contrast from the higher profile elections in Nigeria, Kenya, and Zimbabwe which were all deeply flawed.

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Ghana has always liked to see itself as a shining example to the rest of the continent.

It was the first sub-Saharan country to win independence, in 1957, and its first president, Kwame Nkrumah, was the father of pan-Africanism. He also understood the power of sport, and particularly football, in promoting those ideals. Nkrumah created Ghana's first national team, personally christening them the Black Stars, and he was a big supporter of the Confederation of African Football.

Although the country subsequently suffered under a series of military leaders, the return of democracy in 2000 with the election of John Kufuor and the smooth handover to John Atta Mills in 2008, indicated Ghana's revival. US President Barack Obama even chose Accra as the venue for his speech on the future of Africa, during his first visit to the continent as president.

Football remains a major part of Ghanaian life and the national team's performance in South Africa is partly due to sustained investment in youth development, says Ernest Koranteng, head of sport at Ghana's Joy FM. "Almost all the premier league clubs have youth teams. Ghanaian
football has improved so much thanks to the money spent on developing young players."

The national youth team won last year's under-20 World Cup, beating Brazil in the final, and several players from that team are in the squad in South Africa.

"Ghana has also been consistent with its coach," adds Koranteng. Milovan Rajevac has been in charge since 2008 – four of the other five African teams at the World Cup have changed their coach in the last nine months. "The team knows each other very well and has played the same tactics for a long time. It is a lot easier for them to play together."

Danny Jordaan, the World Cup organizer, had spoken before the tournament about an "African six-pack," encouraging South African fans to get behind the other African teams once Bafana Bafana were knocked out.

Judging by the support for the Black Stars in Johannesburg – street hawkers are doing a brisk business in Ghana flags – they will not be lacking fans in Rustenburg. An editorial in South Africa's Mail & Guardian newspaper, proclaimed that "We are all Black Stars", while the country's African National Congress congratulated the team for "representing the entire continent."

Not for the first time, Ghana will also aim to show the rest of Africa the way forward.

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