Soccer: Africa embraces Ghana's history

JOHANNESBURG - Ghana, uplifted by the enthusiasm of an entire one billion-strong continent, will be bidding to become the first African nation to reach the semifinals of the World Cup when they play Uruguay at Soccer City here on Friday (6.30am Saturday NZT).

Ghana's Black Stars team are the lone flag-wavers for Africa in the first World Cup staged on the continent and there is an emotional outpouring of support for the side against one-time football powers Uruguay.

Ghana became only the third African team along with Cameroon (1990) and Senegal (2002) to reach the last eight at the World Cup when they downed the United States 2-1 in Rustenburg last Saturday.

South Africa 2010 was trumpeted as Africa's long-awaited opportunity to host the world's greatest sporting showpiece, but only Ghana have survived after the demise of hosts South Africa, Cameroon, Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Algeria at the group stage.

Now after their fighting win over the United States, the Black Stars have the opportunity to do what no other African team have previously achieved.

It is an intriguing matchup. Uruguay, weighed down by the history of two world championships in 1930 and 1950 and at their 11th World Cup, are up against the Ghanaians, who are only making their second appearance at the tournament.

Both disparate teams have never played each other and both were not expected to be competing for a place in the semifinal against either Brazil or the Netherlands.

Serbian coach Milovan Rajevac, who has instilled organisation and discipline into the athletic Black Stars, said his team were on the cusp of football history.

"We are not thinking about the pressure. We played very well at the African Nations so we have already proved that we are a team that knows how to compete," Rajevac said.

"We have no obligation but still we want to use this opportunity to do our best and to make history."

Ghana have had some injury concerns ahead of their momentous showdown with leading goalscorer Asamoah Gyan (ankle), midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng (hamstring) and skipper John Mensah (back) missing training this week.

"We have had a few knocks but we are used to this situation and it looks like everyone will be fit and I will be able to pick the best XI we have except for the suspended players," Rajevac said.

Rennes forward Gyan has had an outstanding World Cup scoring the winning penalty against Serbia in their opening game, another penalty in the 1-1 draw with Australia and the extra-time winner against the USA.

"Uruguay are a difficult side but we don't care who we are going to play against," Gyan declared.

Uruguay will be favourites to continue South America's resurgence at the World Cup after their unbeaten run here and they won through to the last-eight with 2-1 win over South Korea in Port Elizabeth.

The Uruguayans were once the powerhouses of South American football, conquering Argentina in the 1930 final and Brazil 20 years later, but this is the first time in 20 years they have been past the group stage and it is 40 years since their last semi-final appearance.

La Celeste, who only qualified for the World Cup after a playoff with Costa Rica, have enjoyed a successful tournament and are spearheaded by Ajax's Luis Suarez and Atletico Madrid's Diego Forlan.

Suarez has caught the eye with his three goals, while former Manchester United star Forlan has netted twice.

- AFP

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