It’s now been ten years since the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, which was seen to be a marker for the country, not just of their prowess in the footballing world, but of their prowess as a nation and, more importantly, of Africa’s prowess as a continent, socially, politically and economically.
I was privileged enough to be able to venture out there for the event, to stay with family and enjoy the atmosphere. I was a young teenager and, to be honest, hardly the biggest fan of the sport at the time.
Nevertheless, I was awed by the near-frenzied passion on display from the fans, local and imported alike. I could not help but be sucked in and that was where my interest in the beautiful game was born – not on the pitch (although I attended several games), but outside the stadiums, with throngs of people, freshly built architecture and the almighty culture clash of an entire planet coming together, to compete and bond over a shared love of sport.
Despite the aforementioned progress, Africa was (and even now, is) still not known as a great footballing continent. Some of the more northerly nations, such as Egypt and Algeria, were considered a potential banana skin for some of the bigger teams, but beyond that, you were expected to beat teams like Cameroon, Nigeria and South Africa if you were worth your salt.
South Africa hold the undesirable position of being the only host nation not to progress from their group but let that not deceive you as to the quality that they displayed. With Uruguay, France and Mexico making up their opponents, if any were to be dubbed the “group of death,” it was Group A, to be sure.
Siphiwe Tshabalala (the most memorable and memeable name of any footballer at the tournament) scored one of the greatest World Cup goals in recent memory to open the scoring against Mexico and the host nation were later able to see off France, after their embarrassing, and very public, implosion on the training pitch.
South Africa played with passion and confidence and achieved far more than record will suggest. A shining example of the best that African football has to offer.
Another, perhaps more memorable, example of the best of African football in 2010 was Ghana’s quarter final run.
It should, of course, have been a semi-final run (we’ll get to that momentarily) and it is ten years, this week, since it came to it’s infuriating end.
Making it through the group stage on goal difference thanks to Germany’s 4-0 dismantling of Australia, they went on to beat the USA (something England couldn’t accomplish) in the round of the last 16, after extra time. It was cagey, but they made it.
Now, the last African team in the tournament, they faced Uruguay. Sulley Muntari put Ghana ahead on the stroke of half time, before Diego Forlan hit back with a sublime free kick in the second half. Ninety minutes up. Again, Ghana found themselves in extra time, with penalties beckoning if they couldn’t find a winner.
In the 121st minute, the ball floated into Uruguay’s box, rebounding off several players, Ghanaian and Uruguayan alike, and drawing the keeper off his line, before finding the forehead of Dominic Adiyiah, who sent the ball straight for the back of the net. It would have been a last-minute winner, sending Uruguay out and Ghana through, making them the first African team ever to make it to a World Cup semi-final. A fairy-tale come to life.
It was not to be.
Adiyah’s header was blocked on the line by the deliberate, flailing hands of the now-infamous Luis Suarez, who announced himself on the world stage in the worst way possible.
Watching it back makes me furious, to this day. He was instantly red-carded, of course, his brow contorting with what appeared to be legitimate confusion as his hand innocently brushed over his heart.
“Me?” Of course, you! Minute 122. Asamoah Gyan steps up to take the penalty, looking calm and ready. He strikes. The ball clangs off the crossbar and out of play. The hearts of fans and players alike shatter as Suarez tears up the tunnel, whooping and cheering as he goes.
The final whistle blows. Extra time over.
Ghana go out on penalties, 4-2, and so transpired the single greatest World Cup injustice since the “Hand of God” in 1986.
Speaking of which, Luis Suarez and the rest of the Uruguayan squad were utterly unapologetic in the post-match interviews, with Suarez stating that “the Hand of God now belongs to me,” and that he “made the save of the tournament.”
A despicable response to what may otherwise have been excused as an instinctive act, and one for which he was not punished with even a modicum of the required severity.
So, Ghana and the rest of Africa still wait for that elusive semi-final. When will it materialise? 2010 was their best chance to date and, robbed at the last minute, seems like a long time ago at this point.
The Qatar World Cup is in 2022. We shall have to wait and see.