ACCRA (Reuters) - Ghana is rushing to erect giant screens around the capital Accra while special prayer sessions are being laid on to invoke divine support for the country’s “Black Stars” for Friday’s quarter-final tie with Uruguay.
As the only African side left in the first World Cup on the continent, the burden of expectation on the Ghanaian side that knocked out the United States last Saturday is rising.
“It will be a great win,” said 39-year-old Fred Marfo, leading a group of youths in last-minute rehearsals of special cheerleader songs at Accra’s seafront Black Star Square.
“It will be an extension of the Republic Day celebrations,” added Marfo, looking forward to more of the party mood which began on Thursday with Ghana’s July 1 public holiday.
Should Ghana beat Uruguay they will become the first African side to reach the World Cup semi-finals a triumph the entire nation is gearing up to savour.
“It is a match of destiny which places an onerous responsibility on the Black Stars,” former President John Kufuor, who stepped down after 2008 elections, told Reuters.
“They will win. Once they’re able to get to the semi-finals, Africa would have established itself as a great football nation in the world,” Kufuor noted, saying he carefully chose the word “nation” to reflect a sense of pan-African unity.
Last Saturday’s 2-1 victory over the United States triggered a wave of partying across the country that was so frenetic that there were media reports of injuries and even some deaths.
It led the government to issue an appeal this week for Ghanaians “to be moderate and cautious in their celebrations considering that we need everybody alive to celebrate many other successes.”
If the sense of expectation is not enough to motivate the team, which will line up largely unchanged from the side that beat the United States, the government is offering a $50,000 bonus per head for victory against Uruguay.
While no match for English Premier League-style benefits, that is about 100 times the average annual income per head in the aid-reliant west African country of 23 million.
Rashid Pelpuo, who as sports minister under the previous administration kicked off Ghana’s preparations for the tournament, blamed the weak showing of other African sides on inadequate resources and said it was vital that players were properly motivated, including with cash.
“It’s a huge burden.. it’s not going to be easy but again, it’s an opportunity to show the resilience of Africa and the Black Stars are well motivated to do so,” Pelpuo said.