World Cup: Second Teams

Second Teams: Ghana

Editor’s note: This is the latest piece in PSP’s World Cup series, in which PSP’s writers and a few honored guests make the case for which team you should root for in the World Cup after the United States. Read the full series here.

William Faulkner said that “the human heart in conflict with itself” was the only subject worthy of a good story. Nowhere does that hold more true than when a soccer fan indulges in the game’s conflicting narratives. We’ve all found ourselves of two minds and hearts when the global web of club leagues and international competitions obliges us to root for what in other circumstances we’d curse, or vice versa.

If the soccer fan can make allowances for an opposing player that’s been transferred to the home team or capped for the national one, or pin hopes on a hated rival side against an even more hated rival side, surely we can indulge in the support of a determined group of players that show such consistent spunk and moxie as to inspire the respect of anyone with two eyes and a human soul.

Such is the case with Ghana, respect for whom is near universal, but love of whom, for an American, is an exercise in masochism that would make Faulkner proud.

Blood feud

Can an American love the GMNT? Can the fate of our own team (and of the game itself here, always tied to the profile of the USMNT) be set aside in order to appreciate their special valor? Can we share in the dreams of the side that has made a habit of crushing ours?

Ghana famously booted the US out of the last two World Cups and even qualified for Brazil by stepping over the still-twitching corpse of Bob Bradley, whose Egyptian national team they trounced to secure their spot. If not for Ghana, the US might have probed the quarterfinals for the first time since 2002. Can that be forgiven? Should it be?

Yes. A thousand times yes, because Ghana is America. Their team is America, and their players are America, in the best sense.

The heart of our national mythos, the basis of our alleged “exceptionalism,” is pluck, and the Black Stars run almost entirely on the stuff. The hardworking underdog who stands fearless in the face of Goliath, always emerging with pride if not victory, is Ghana, and Ghana is it.

Ghana is George Washington and John Henry. Ghana is James Braddock and the 1980 Olympic hockey team. Ghana is the 1950 US World Cup squad, caring just enough to really try but not enough to really fear. Ghana is, unlike the US these days, living in the sweet spot between ability and expectations that makes every victory feel like a victory for all humankind.

Ghana FAGhana in 2014

The team comes to Brazil with their usual middling expectations, plus a certain general acknowledgment of their special “it” factor. They join our great nation in the Group of Death, so one could be forgiven for assuming that the two sides are only competing for third behind Ronaldo’s Portugal and Germany’s Germany.

But this is soccer. Things happen in soccer, especially when Ghana’s involved.

Despite the high regard with which Ghana’s previous runs out of the group stage are universally held, they should still be stinging from their ignoble 2010 defeat at the hands of Uruguay, whose buck-toothed superstar managed to stop snacking on opposing players long enough to deny captain Asamoah Gyan’s game-winning goal with a handball that was surely the illegitimate lovechild of Diego Maradona and Thierry Henry’s famous swats. Having missed the resultant PK while Suarez cavorted in despicable glee, Gyan has something to prove on the world stage.

Michael Essien, though past his physical peak, is still a tremendous presence. The combination of himself, Kwadwo Asamoah, Andre Ayew, and Sulley Muntari makes for a solid midfield, one that can anchor the team consistently enough to allow them to wait for their moment on the counter or the set piece. Ghana also brings the (loaned) Chelsea young gun Christian Atsu, a Messi-esque middie who may be brazen enough to take a run at American, German, or Portuguese defenses and may even be good enough to create chances.

At the helm is coach and former team captain Kwesi Appiah, himself an embodiment of the national pride that seems to be the team’s best resource. He is the first native Ghanaian to bring the team to the World Cup, and whether he intends it or not, his success as well as Ghana’s will stand as a statement about the state of African soccer, especially in the absence of hired guidance from abroad. This point of pride also happens to contrast starkly with the US decision to dump the home-grown leadership in favor of a European ringer.

What to expect

Neither the Black Stars nor anyone else is fooling themselves about Ghana’s chances; they are the small fish here, made smaller still next to leviathans like Portugal and likely champion Germany. To the cynic, beating the United States again may be the only thing Ghana can reasonably expect to accomplish.

That shouldn’t stop American fans from appreciating whatever else they do. Though it will come at our expense, if they can claw themselves out of the group stage again (perhaps with a not astronomically unlikely upset over Portugal), they will inherit our hopes — the hopes of those who aren’t the best, but who will be goddamned if they don’t go down swinging — and carry them onward.

For the US to be defeated a third time by Ghana would be a stab to the ego, but it would be an honorable one from a worthy opponent. It would certainly leave room for a reasonable American, once the tears have dried and the ashes of the Klinsmann effigy have been swept away, to dance the Azonto in solidarity with a team who will have earned whatever they get.


  1. Nice try, but…no I will not be rooting for Ghana. I just can not cheer for the team that has knocked us out of the last two (and maybe three) World Cups.

  2. kingkowboys says:

    I may root for Ghana if they advance from groups and we do not. Other than that, they are the enemy so I will not be making them a second team.

  3. OneManWolfpack says:

    Yeah… No disrespect… but NO.

  4. Atomic spartan says:

    An eloquent case for an honorable underdog. Well worth rooting for – by someone else.

  5. I’ll root for them with all my heart after we beat them. Because after that point, we will need probably a win and a draw from them against the others with low scoring games.

  6. You just compared Ghana to the 1980 Olympic team? A team of AMERICAN college players who beat the power-house Soviet Union? That’s a real underdog story, a team that’s easy to root for. Ghana beat us each of the past 2 World Cups, so I don’t really get how people can still consider them an underdog in this match.

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