Ghana loss puts African dream on hold

Africa's hope of seeing its own World Cup champion crowned on home soil ended with Ghana's 4-2 penalty shootout loss to Uruguay.

Black Stars lose dramatic penalty shootout versus Uruguay

A continent is in mourning.

Africa's faint hope of seeing its own World Cup champion crowned on home soil came to a dramatic end Friday at Soccer City Stadium with Ghana's 4-2 penalty shootout loss to Uruguay.

For the briefest of moments, it looked as though the Black Stars would become the first African nation to reach the semifinals in the 80-year history of the tournament.

Goals by Ghana's Sulley Muntari and Diego Forlan of Uruguay on either side of halftime set the stage for a thrill-a-minute extra time session.

Ghana was on the cusp of greatness with a continent holding its collective breath when it was awarded a penalty kick in the dying seconds. Uruguay's Luis Suarez was red-carded for blocking the ball with his arm before it crossed the goal-line, and the African dream appeared to be alive.

But the occasion proved to be too much for Asamoah Gyan, the Ghanaian striker, who belted his penalty attempt off the crossbar.

Sport imitates life

Gyan's missed shot seemed to encapsulate the history of Africa: so close to stepping out from under the patronage of its continental neighbours while at the same time unable to emerge from the shadows long cast over it.

With that, Pele's bold pre-tournament proclamation that an African side would win the World Cup was put on hold, at least for another four years.

Make no mistake about it: this is a loss that resonates across Africa, not just in Ghana. It's hard to imagine Canadians cheering for the United States if Team Canada were to be eliminated from an Olympic hockey tournament.

But Africa is a different place, with a diverse people bound by a common history of suffering, both in life and on the soccer field.

Five of the six African countries at this competition — Algeria, Cameroon, Nigeria, Ivory Coast and the host nation — bowed out in the first round, leaving Ghana the incredible burden of carrying the hopes of the entire continent.

Alone the Black Stars stood, but not for long.

Weight of a continent on their shoulders

The front page of Friday's edition The Citizen, one of the top morning dailies in South Africa, implored all of Africa to unite behind Ghana ahead of the do-or-die match against Uruguay.

South Africans answered the call, as more than 87,000 jammed Soccer City Stadium in what will surely gone down as one of the seminal and lasting memories of this month-long soccer festival.

If only South African icon Nelson Mandela had been there to see it first-hand. Throngs of Africans of all races and ethnicities united as one, wearing the national colours of Ghana in support of the Black Stars.

This was the Rainbow Nation in all of its glory.

Resilient Africa

No, it didn't have the fairy tale ending, but Africa and its people are nothing if not resilient. They will bounce back from this setback.

In the meantime, tears will be shed for Ghana, and rightly so. But spare a thought for Gyan, too.

The 24-year-old striker is one of the emerging talents in African soccer, distinguishing himself at this tournament with three goals in five games.

After captain and influential midfielder Michael Essien was ruled out because of injury before the start of the World Cup, it was Gyan who carried the team through a difficult opening group and a thrilling second-round victory over the U.S.

Against Uruguay, Gyan ran himself ragged for 120 minutes, putting the South Americans' bend-but-not-break defence under constant pressure.

And when it came time for Ghana coach Milovan Rajevac to pick which players would take a penalty in the shootout, Gyan was the first to volunteer for duty.

Instead of shirking his responsibility, he assumed the mantle of leadership and delivered on his promise, making amends for his prior failure.

That too, captured the history of Africa.