THE moment Africa has fervently been waiting for is today. It’s a moment for the continent to document its biggest history at the global stage. No better time than now.
And, that unparalleled piece of history beckons no other team than Ghana’s Black Stars as they swagger their way to the 94,000-plus capacity Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg tonight to do battle with two-time world champions-Uruguay.
No African team has ever rambled past the quarter-final stage and Ghana will reckon their chances of becoming the first to slice out that monumental feat.
This feeling of self-assurance and buoyancy has been deepened with that plucky extra-time victory over a craggy and weather-beaten USA contingent last Saturday.
Top goal-poacher and tormentor-in-chief Asamoah Gyan is hopeful that Ghana can win the match against the tough Uruguayans.
“I think having come this far, we can only brace ourselves for the moment. We are the continent’s only hope and we must go all out for it. I think it’s possible – we have the fighting power to make it,” Gyan, who has three goals to his name, told the Times yesterday.
The man who is the driving force of the Stars, Coach Milovan Rajevac, also shares similar aspiration.
“Ghana is now among the eight best teams in the world. This is fantastic. The most important thing is to know how to compete so Ghana will manage to go further. There’s a lot at stake because we are the only African side remaining.
“But we will try to play well and get the result,” assured Rajevac who does not intend to change the team’s tactical approach.
The Stars are the only African team left in the campaign, after the elimination of hosts South Africa, Cameroon, Nigeria, Algeria and Cote d’Ivoire.
With restricted roles for veterans Sulley Muntari and Stephen Appiah, the Black Stars have relied upon the swash-buckling Kevin-Prince Boateng, Gyan and daring Andre Dede Ayew for attack pressure.
But the inspirational Ayew and central defender Jonathan Mensah will miss tonight’s affair for yellow cards. Gracefully, Boateng, the man who fetched that crucial opener against the US, has recovered to assume his aggressive midfield role with the master-of-dirty-work, Anthony Annan.
Beefy Isaac Vorsah is also ready to assume Jonathan Mensah’s position with captain and ‘Rock of Gibraltar’ John Mensah.
For the first time in the campaign, Muntari is likely to be handed a starting role by Coach Rajevac, the man who almost sent him packing out of camp – and the Inter Milan attacking left-sided player will reckon the opportunity to prove his cynics wrong.
Whatever it is, Ghana will certainly be in a match of their lives.
They are playing a South American side that first hosted the World Cup in 1930 which they won with a thumping 4-2 victory over Argentina. Known as the La Celeste (The Blue Sky), the Uruguayans had to wait for the next 20 years before upstaging Brazil 2-1 at their own backyard to win the Golden Fleece for the second time.
It’s been four decades (1970) since the Uruguayans got to the semi final stage and may be hungrier than the Stars who could only be let down by their conversion rate.
Until last Saturday, Ghana had gone 433 minutes without scoring a goal in open play at the World Cup. Since Haminu Draman scored in the 22nd minute of their group game with USA at Germany 2006 - their only goals in four FIFA World Cup games had come via the penalty spot.
It has been the reverse for Uruguay whose backline had not let in any goal in 390 minutes at the FIFA World Cup until Lee Chung-Yong scored Korea Republic’s equaliser in Port Elizabeth.
Before that, the last goal they had let in was scored by Papa Bouba Diop for Senegal in the 38th minute of a group encounter at Suwon in 2002 which ended 3-3.
Obviously, it suggests how far Ghana would have to dig rip open the Uruguayan defence tonight.
In Luis Suarez and Diego Forlan, La Celeste have probably the most deadly duo in the tournament. The duet has scored four goals in four games, always proving to be every team’s nightmare.
Forlan has grabbed the headlines so far for Uruguay, and rightly so. His energy and creativity has been a spark for his team, and he is proving to be a handful for the opposition.
After a dire 0-0 draw with France to open their World Cup campaign, Uruguayan head coach Oscar Tabarez took the decision to play Edinson Cavani up front alongside Luis Suarez in their second match, dropping Forlan into the hole behind the front pairing.
It was a move that has freed Forlan to be the creative force the South Americans require, and he has since been the central figure for Uruguay – grabbing a brace in the 3-0 thrashing of South Africa to top Group A.
A further 2-1 win against South Korea at the Round of 16 placed them in the firing line with Ghana who began with a 1-0 triumph over Serbia, drew 1-1 against Australia and lost 0-1 to Germany.
But the Uruguayans will miss the services of their full-house defender Diego Godin because of a left thigh injury. The Villarreal player suffered the injury in the second half of the 2-1 last 16 win over South Korea in Port Elizabeth on Saturday and was replaced by Mauricio Victorino.
The Ghanaians demonstrated a rare piece of bravado to dispatch USA 2-1 after extra time – and may yet cause the biggest sensation in World Cup history by upsetting the apple-cart.
One thing is assured – there will be total support for the Black Stars on the night.
The leadership of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) and former South African President, Thabo Mbeki, have called on South Africans to come out in their numbers to give Ghana their all to ensure victory for the continent.
What else – the Stars can only pounce on the opportunity and make Africa more proud than they have done so far.
Winner of the Uruguay-Ghana quarter-final will meet the winner of the Brazil-Netherlands quarter-final game.
Go Ghana, go Black Stars.