NEWS

Underdog loses despite ebullient play, amid trend of bias against Africans

Brazil’s form going into the game had been patchy. Ghana on the other hand had displayed the sort of exuberance in their play that was normally associated with the South Americans and had won many admirers along the way. Their attitude was reflected by the enthusiasm of a group of their fans who arrived in one of the allocated parking lots some five hours before the game was due to kick off. A minivan stopped dead, the doors flew open, the sound of music wafted through the air and out of the vehicle emerged one Ghanaian after another until all seven had set their feet on the gravel. They stopped all the other traffic and began dancing around the other cars, waving their red, green and yellow flag while singing along to the music. Anything the Brazilians could do, the Ghanaians could do better. Vehicles queued up as drivers and passengers watched the spectacle. Nobody shouted, nobody cursed. Instead grins spread across their faces and many joined in, clapping and dancing. As one Ghanaian told me, his country was finally on the map and he wanted to make sure everyone knew about it. Ghana, the carefree World Cup debutantes, against Brazil, the odds-on favorites with everything to lose: It had the makings of something dramatic so what better setting than the Westfalen stadium, known as the «opera house» of German soccer. The ‘opera house’ The stadium was constructed in 1965 in a project that involved the uncovering and defusing of 34 World War II bombs buried in the earth. Since then the Westfalenstadion has been home to local side Borussia Dortmund and some of the most passionate supporters in German football. Boxed in on all corners and with steep, towering stands on all four sides, it is the perfect soccer arena. Many of the neutrals among the sellout crowd of 65,000 people decided to support the underdog in Tuesday’s game as has been the trend among German fans at this World Cup. But you felt that there was a self-serving nature to their support as it would do no harm to the German national side’s chances of lifting the trophy if Brazil was knocked out of the tournament. During the match, as one German fan remonstrated with the referee after one of his decisions went against Ghana, a Brazilian sitting behind him berated his reaction. «Why do you fear us so much?» the Brazilian repeated in frustration. The German thought about it, shrugged his shoulders and returned to watching the game. Even in the language of soccer it is difficult to sum up 76 years of history in a concise comeback. By that stage of the game, however, Brazil’s passage to the quarterfinals had been ensured as they eased to a 3-0 victory which flattered the South Americans and was particularly harsh on the Africans, who had actually played the more positive football. Ghana had also been harshly dealt with by the referee, who allowed Brazil’s second goal to stand when it had been clearly offside. The official from Slovakia was very hasty in handing out yellow cards to the Ghanaians, keeping up a worrying trend at this World Cup which has seen African teams punished more strictly than their counterparts from other parts of the world. Whistles of derision from thousands of Germans and hundreds of Ghanaians greeted some of his decisions. The next World Cup will be held in South Africa in four years’ time. It will be the first tournament to be held on African soil and world soccer’s governing body FIFA will have to ensure this problem is rectified if it is going to fulfill its dream of making Africa the last continent where the foundations for the future of the sport are laid.