Saturday, June 26, 2010

"Never Ghana give you up..."

IN A parallel universe, Wayne Rooney is currently stewing over the second World Cup red card of his career – emulating Rigobert Song and Zinedine Zidane – after again lashing out as England are crashing out.
Perhaps that’s just a little harsh on newly-matured, new father Rooney – or maybe instead tempting fate, as England prepare for that German clash on Sunday afternoon.
Yet it was tempting to imagine, as the US toiled – only to be foiled – against the ‘Black Stars’ of Ghana, just how England might have coped in this apparently-easier fixture.
Having struggled so dismally to penetrate both the US and Algerian defences already, England could well have struggled some more against a formidably compact and well-organised Ghana backline.
A few weary lapses aside - especially as tonight’s extra-time encounter dragged on - it was hard not to admire a defence marshalled by John Mensah and bravely (sometimes foolhardily) bolstered by his young namesake John.
And in front of that granite-hard back four, the ever-diligent, always-pressing, under-sized Anthony Annan – a nephew of Kofi’s, he claims – was keeping both defence and attack ticking neatly over, despite looking like a mascot who just won’t be shooed-off.
For the unlucky USA, twice more caught napping after an opening whistle, Landon Donovan yet again emerged as “Mandon” Donovan.
As dynamic on the pitch this summer as he has been drably taciturn off it, it was his seizing of momentum and surging more purposively forward after half-time that threatened to upend Ghanaian control of the game.
His neat through-ball led to the penalty he himself clipped past the otherwise-excellent – and under-heralded – Wigan sub ‘keeper Richard Kingson.
But despite drawing level, when they should have shifted up several gears more the American momentum somehow again stalled – and Ghana could see out the match if not quite in comfort, then certainly at their own preferred pace.
Perhaps, in the end, the likes of Donovan, Dempsey and coach’s son Michael could do strive so much when carrying lesser drudges such as the error-prone Richard Clark and too many blunt-edged, surprise-call-up strikers.
The sprawling Rustenburg athletics-track stadium perhaps does not quite do full justice to a breakthrough sure to be acclaimed as redemptive for an entire continent, at this African World Cup.
Ghana can certainly expect to benefit from full-throated support throughout the rest of their run – though, as cold-conscious medics are now imploring, do make sure only your own throat has been filling that vuvuzela.
And Soccer City – twice the size – next Friday should certainly be crackling with just a little more charge, even before
But then, before Asamoah Gyan powered his way through to that extra-time winner – his fourth World Cup goal, just one behind the continent’s top scorer, that man Roger Milla – Ghana looked badly in need of a prolific, pure finisher.
Someone like, say, Diego Forlan – or Luis Suarez, this afternoon’s hero with a pearler of a curler, just when it looked like sitting back to soak up South Korean possession might just Uruguay and their unusually-sloppy defenders.
Next Friday should provide, then, an engaging battle between two contrasting – yet both attractive – styles.
In the meantime, Ghana’s energy-sapped, collapsing ‘Black Stars’ should probably catch up on plenty of rest.
They might need it – and they certainly deserve it.

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