28th January 2008
I've just returned home from Ghana’s final group match in the Accra stadium. Many people, including myself, predicted a close struggle against Morocco. Ghana completely dominated the match and won 2-0. A great occasion. Now they are in the quarter-finals against either Ivory Coast (unlikely) or Mali.
The African Nations Cup! What an event! The scorelines hardly matter. This tournament is notable for its attacking play, goals galore, absence of hooliganism and stupendous atmosphere.
The opening game, Ghana v Guinea, and the ceremony that preceded it, were unforgettable. I had the worst seat in the stadium for watching football – behind a goal, only a little above ground level, with a glass barrier, people, advertising boards and the goal net blocking my view. It didn’t matter – I had the best seat in the ground for atmosphere! I was surrounded by Ghana supporters and, in front of me, the Guinea supporters paraded and beat their drums. In spite of the police’s efforts to move them away from the glass barrier, they stood their ground and cavorted merrily for the duration of the match. The colours – yellow, red and green for both teams
– were shockingly bright, and the noise was deafening. Fans wore tricolour jester caps and top hats; men draped in Ghana flags blew bass-toned horns; many supporters wore Ghana shirts emblazoned with the MTN logo; everywhere people banged together yellow inflatable MTN plastic 'hands’. In front of me an odd little man glumly strutted. He wore only the briefest of briefs, was painted from head to toe in Ghana’s colours and had the words ‘Volta Region Association’ across his back. There were a number of these characters in and outside the ground, sponsored by the MTN phone company.
Behind my seat was the scoreboard, which displayed the countries’ flags. Ghana: horizontal stripes of red, yellow and green, with a black star in the centre. Guinea: plain vertical stripes of red, yellow and green. The whole stadium was filled with red, yellow and green! Never have I seen such vivid colours at a sporting event.
The match kicked off at 5pm but was preceded by an opening ceremony. Like everything else, this was amazing. Hundreds of Ghanaians, dressed in tribal costumes, poured through the various entrances onto the pitch, which was covered with protective carpet squares. They danced and
paraded for two hours. The absolute highlight for me was the parade of bare-chested men, wearing native sarongs and carrying giant imitation elephant tusks. The on-pitch festivities paused only for speeches – notably by John Kufuor, the Ghanaian President – which were rendered inaudible by the unrelenting crowd noise.
The only parallel to Ghana v Guinea – indeed to all three Ghana group games - in my experience of live sporting events, is West Indian cricket. In the Caribbean islands the joie de cricket beats anything that staid old England has to offer. There is noise and colour and unfettered rejoicing. However, the sheer scale and passion of the Ghana celebration outdid even the West Indies.
The game itself was a mere sideshow to the main event – namely the crowd. Ghana won 2-1 thanks to a last-minute wonder goal by Sulley Muntari. As we walked away from the stadium, surrounded by ecstatic supporters, we praised the Lord for Muntari’s goal. What an anticlimax it would have been if Ghana had drawn their opening game; what a letdown for their fans (i.e. all the inhabitants of Ghana)!
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