Sunday, June 13, 2010

"Blame it on the Black Stars..."

AFTER Friday’s home draw that felt like a home win, today brought similarly joyous celebrations – even if today’s home win, well, wasn’t. Quite.
Yet those posters and pledges of ‘Africa United’ proved more than just symbolic as Ghana earned and embraced the continent's first triumph of the tournament - on the pitch, anyway.
The winter sun-smeared skies were cloudless over Pretoria, as I (finally) found my seat, cooped up high in the Versfeld stadium, one of the more conventionally-built venues of the tournament with its Subbuteo-style grandstands
Ah, that’s why – it’s more usually used for dull rugby.
While the climate has lurched between poles of hot and cold, the football so far has felt a little lukewarm – yet the atmosphere again today was, as they say, electric.
Not just those horns and their literally breathtaking persistence - but also the uninhibited and vivid dancing, colour and expression, actually from hosts and visitors alike.
‘Feel it, Ghana is here’ declared a banner patiently paraded along the touchline towards the end of today’s compelling enough action, with the ‘Black Stars’ deserving winners – even if Aleksandr Lukovic’s red card looked a little petty.
No doubts about the late penalty award, with Zdravzko Kuzmanovic’s random hand up brought back to mind Fredi Kanoute’s similar moment of madness that once cost Spurs a Carling Cup tie against Liverpool B.
The temperamental Asamoah Gyan, today troublesome throughout but in a good way, drove it past Vladimir Stojkovic – one of two Wigan goalkeepers on the pitch, how odd – and unleashed that storm in the stands.
The crowd – alas, still a little sparse in patches - had gone crazy enough just to see Stephen Appiah come on a few minutes earlier.
The shrieks and acclaim made for possibly the most over-gleeful response to a substitution since David Beckham was making meaningless Wembley cameos.
For what little time he was on the pitch, Appiah trudged around further forward than at the last World Cup – but, along with Gyan, it was the wingers who really gave Ghana their oomph, up against Serbia’s better organisation.
Prince Tagoe – bested by Kevin-Prince Boateng in the battle to have simply ‘PRINCE’ on the shirt – darted around with skill and purpose, switching neatly at times with Kwadwo Asamoah right of central midfield.
And Andre Ayew, while a little too tentative when given the ball and space to run at first, looked more threatening when summoning up the confidence to surge inside and through on goal.
Perhaps he could do with an ‘Arry-esque arm round the shoulder, and shot in the arm – or hypnosis to persuade him he’s actually the original Pele, instead of simply the son of the African version.
Whether those powers rest with Ghana’s Serbian coach Milovan Rajevac might be open to question – today he looked like a man recovering from a heavy night out, or a possible Rigsby in a Rising Damp remake.
But victory was his, rather than going the way of Serbia and their Serbian coach Raddy Antic, who looks to have put together a well-practiced but toothless team.
Certainly, CSKA Moscow winger Milos Krasic, dynamic in last season’s Champions League, was a huge disappointment today – barely touching the ball in the first half, aside from two embarrassing miscues on the touchline.
He did come closest to scoring for Serbia, with a well-wellied drive at Richard Kingson’s fortunate fists, but – as with Angel Di Maria’s subdued display for Argentina yesterday – hopes had been higher. Hey, have another go…
Nenad Milijas’ rehearsed and artful set-pieces could have worked surprises, but for failings of technique by those they were aimed at – and the Wolves man, so easily-tired, trudged off not long after his half-time breather.
Meanwhile, Dejan Stankovic didn’t quite stink the place out, but sat too umambitiously deep and kept hitting the ball too aimlessly long.
Milan Jovanovic gave glimpses of twinkly toes that could please Liverpool fans – all right, for free, anyway – but Nikola Zigic’s tangle of long legs when failing to score from four yards only suggested Birmingham’s £6million looks like money, well, just spent.
Serba gained a little more thrust when reduced to ten men, but Ghana themselves could – and should – have scored more than just their third penalty in five World Cup matches.
Perhaps that’s why Rajevac looked surprisingly rueful at full-time. Or, more likely of course, he recalled where he came from - as did John Pantsil, who even as his players and staff surged all over the field – John Pantsil having remembered tafter flourishing the Israeli flag four years ago, handily remembered to bring along the right flag this time.

All the while, the surrounding cacophony continued, justly defying those anti-vuvuzela misery-guts – among them now, it seems, the BBC. For shame.
The post-penalty rush was such, that no one even seemed to notice the steward who fell over when chasing a pitch invader.
That would guarantee some big, big laughs back home in Britain, surely...
Ah, but maybe there were more important things to worry about.
Like, simply, deliciously losing it while winning.
Okay game, sure - special occasion, more.

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