FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- As a West African from Gambia, Revolution midfielder Sainey Nyassi felt slightly conflicted last week when Ghana and the United States faced off in a round-of-16 World Cup match in South Africa.
“When Ghana played the U.S., I would be happy if the U.S. won because it would promote the league a lot,’’ Nyassi said. “A lot of people out there would know what MLS is about. On the other side, I’m African so I told my friends that Ghana is winning, and they did. They didn’t really surprise me because they have a lot of talented players who are young, fight hard and are energetic. So it wasn’t a surprise.’’
Ghana’s 2-1 overtime win propelled the country to the tournament’s quarterfinal round Friday against Uruguay. The Ghanaians also carried the torch for an entire continent as the sole surviving African country out of six to qualify.
“They are making every African proud,’’ he said. “They are the only African team left in the competition and hopefully they will beat Uruguay and they will get to the semifinal."
Ghana also defeated the United States in the 2006 World Cup held in Germany, then lost to Brazil in the first knockout round. This time around, the team, which has dealt admirably with the loss to injury of its most prominent player, Michael Essien (who has not played in the tourney), has ridden the talents of some young players mixed in with older veterans. Friday’s game against Uruguay could be especially challenging considering Ghana will play without 20-year-old Alex Ayew and Jonathan Mensah (suspensions), while Kevin Prince Boateng is questionable with a hamstring injury.
“Ghana is a small country and the U.S. is 10 times bigger than Ghana,’’ said Nyassi. “It’s all about commitment and what you believe as a team and what work you do on the field. Ghana came all out and worked hard as a team and that’s how they got results as a team.’’
Forward Kheli Dube, a Zimbabwe native, said Ghana has ensured that Africa would be represented into the tournament’s final stages.
“You have so much pride because they are the only African team that’s there right now,’’ he said. “Watching from here knowing that one of the African countries is doing well is a good thing. I had my money on the Ivory Coast. But I knew Ghana was a better team. If you look at Ghana, they have all the boys from the under-20’s and they won the [youth] World Cup. So if you have a mix of the big players and the young guys, it makes them work harder. I think what’s also helped the Ghana team is every time they stepped on the field they were underdogs. Then they come out big winners.’’
Dube said he never felt it would be catastrophic for Africa not to have a final eight team.
“Not really because nobody is guaranteed a place,’’ he said. “Look at Italy and France. They did not qualify and they are big names. Ghana came out and surprised. They produce a lot of talent. Look at the guys who play in Europe. It’s a lot of guys. Then look at the young guys that are coming through. You know after the World Cup they are going to Europe. So they have a good junior development cycle.’’
Nyassi said the thing he likes most about Ghana is they haven’t abandoned the creative African way of playing.
“Cameroon, Ivory Coast and other countries look more like European teams,’’ he said. “Ghana is a typical African team. You can tell by watching them play. A couple of players there are playing back in Africa so their game is a lot different than a lot of other African countries. They put things together, play as a team, fight as a team and defend as a team and that’s how they get results.’’
Dube did, however, acknowledge that the tournament would have suffered without an African team still alive.
“That would have been a blow,’’ he said. “I was there with my fingers crossed waiting for Ghana. It would have been a disappointment because the tournament is played back in Africa. Ivory Coast and countries like Nigeria should have qualified. But since Ghana is there it’s good for all African countries.’’