It is difficult to put in words the emotional rollercoaster that Ghanaians have been wrenched through over the past three days. Most of us, together with supporters of the National Football team across the world, went to bed on Friday night exhausted, bewildered and deflated. The high that came with the first goal struck by Sulley Muntari on the stroke of half-time had given way to despondency unknown on this side of personal grief.
But this was nothing compared with the feeling on Saturday morning. For those who were able to sleep as for the traumatised insomniacs, dawn brought that drained and barren feeling: the realisation that there is no prize for nearly there.
The focus of that early emptiness was, of course, Asamoah Gyan, with whom Ghanaians have an amazing love-hate relationship. There is no guessing which side had won the race on Saturday morning. Some people were openly declaring that the deportation would be the most charitable treatment for the hapless striker who had been inconsolable on the pitch after the disaster in Soccer City. Did I say disaster? More on that later. But let us stay with Mr. Gyan for the moment.
For some, decapitation would even be merciful, but radio commentaries and phone-in monitored by this reporter appeared to suggest that by mid-morning, the red mist was lifting, giving way shoulder shrugs and heavy sighs, and of course the belief that even this was the will of God. But Asamoah Gyan who was the first player to score from the penalty spot in the current world cup on June 13 against Serbia, has joined an illustrious club of penalty “miss-ers”. They include Diego Maradona (1990), Michel Platini (1986), Socrates (1986), Zico (1986), Roberto Baggio (1994, and Franco Baresi (1994).
Spare a thought for Asmoah Gyan who had been invested who, seconds to go in extra time, had suddenly been installed as the potential restorer of Africa’s pride. He was to undo with one foot all the hurt and indignity, not to mention the pillage and spillage of our blood, during half a millennium of colonialism and slavery. Every black person and every person who supports the cause of fairness and liberation, with the possible exception of four million Uruguayans, prayed for Gyan’s foot to deliver. It was almost too much to bear for the player and the billion hearts that defied medical opinion and stopped for an eternity.
Spare a thought for the entire team. A group of young men in this bright and unsparing global limelight would do what all young men love to do: swagger and bluster, and follow the coach’s indoctrination that they are cool, very cool, thank you and no pressure. But deep down, they would be battle scarred and worn down with the expectation of an entire continent, if not a globe on their backs. Think of running around in very cold night in Johannesburg at an altitude of nearly 6000 feet above sea level, and you can barely begin to imagine what it would feel like with the additional burden of Nelson Mandela’s message ringing in your ear.
So Asamoah Gyan missed that critical penalty that would have made all the difference to the billions that had invested such emotion in the outcome of that World Cup match, but should it have been a penalty in the first place? Let us stay on this subject, because a critical examination would lead to the inevitable conclusion that Ghana won the match, or at least secured a moral victory that must have positive consequences for the beautiful game and its rather pretentious notions of fair play.
First, the location of the ball at the time it was handled by the Uruguayan player Suarez (public Enemy Number One) appears to suggest that it had gone over the line. Here, Ghana must join England in putting pressure on FIFA to accept the introduction of goal line technology into international football. If this had been cricket, rugby, or tennis instant replay would have enabled o “fourth official” to reach the right conclusion.
But secondly, and most crucially, what should the outcome be when a ball so clearly destined for goal is scooped out by a player using his hand or hands when he is not the goalkeeper. On the face of it, it appears that the referee acted within the letter of FIFA Law 12 of the FIFA Laws of the Game 2005, which says a free-kick or penalty will be awarded if a player "handles the ball deliberately (except for the goalkeeper within his own penalty area)". On page 67 of the Laws, referees are reminded that “deliberately handling the ball is normally punished only by a direct free-kick or penalty kick if the offence occurred inside the penalty area”.
It is obvious that the penalty area is big and there are bound to be different effects of handling depending on where the offense occurs, but none would have the same dire consequences as a ball deliberately scooped out of goal, especially when it has gone over the line, with a player’s hands. That must be different from say, handling in a goalmouth melee after a corner kick.
Most Ghanaians believe that the Black Stars were robbed of victory by either Luis Suarez, or the referee or both, but our gallant young men have won the moral victory. In 1964, the Cuban boxer Sugar Ramos was given a tainted verdict over the Ghanaian challenger Floyd Robertson after a World Boxing Council Featherweight encounter in Accra. The following day, the President of Ghana, Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah, caused the Ghana Boxing Authority to “reverse” the verdict. It had no significant impact internationally but it alerted the boxing world that the African nation of Ghana does not take it lying down.
We may not have to go through the theatrics of reversing the football verdict of last Friday because that would amount to crying over spilt ekpeguemi but we can fight for a rule change so that no team, nation or continent will have to go through the anguish that we have suffered over the past 72 hours.
Meanwhile, there should be no reason why we should not hold our team and its handlers in high esteem. There is no reason to throw the flag away and shed the colourful support costume. Our team won the right to make us proud. We should accept them with gleeful arms. Remember they fought for every ball and entered every contest with skill and bravery. Friday night was not a disaster but a moment of truth for the world to know a bit more about our continent and its people.
(Kwasi Gyan-Apenteng, Journalist & Communications Consultant)
Cultural Initiatives Support Programme
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PMB CT 219, Cantonments, Accra
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