Black Stars! NO SHAKING!


Kwadwo Asamoah leaves the Loftus Versfeld Stadium after practice yesterday


It is time for all the pundits to step aside and for the Black Stars to get down to doing what they have traveled to South Africa for. For those who have had questions about them and their preparations, it is the day to be proven wrong. And for those who have backed them to the hilt, they can be vindicated. It is time to put any fear aside and draw inspiration from their hosts and from the collective support of an entire continent. Today, the Black Stars step on the field for real. 

Forget humiliation to the Netherlands and the ridicule and doubt that followed. Forget victory over Latvia.It is Ghana vs Serbia at 4 pm South African time live. And it matters. It matters for the three points at stake, for the chance to start off well and for the opportunity for players to show why the coach has faith in them. So, exit Van Persie and enter Nikola Zigic. Wesley Sneijder, give way to Dejan Stankovic. We switch focus from friendlies and declare a football war. Any friendships and allegiances must be put on hold for 90 minutes. Even coach Milovan Rajevac who is coaching against his country understands that

Today, Ghana gets behind the 11 men on the field whose hearts will be pounding for the 90 minutes and possibly more as the entire nation cheers and groans. A continent will hold its breath and wish you well  as you represent them. Do not be cowed by the weight of expectation. Rather, let the drums in the crowd make for a familiar environment, the vuvuzelas a home away from home and may the loudly sung songs give you the courage and encouragement to win.

Go Black Stars!

Ke Nako


African pride at world cup opening ceremony


What a 48 hours it has been. We’ve gone from the highs of an opening concert that featured some accomplished musicians both local and foreign, woken up to news of a tragedy in the Mandela family which ensured he would miss the celebratory opening ceremony.

And after all that, how can you not feel proud to be an African on this day? Simply impossible. 

Let’s start with the concert which I was lucky to catch a bit of live. By the time I got to Orlando Pirates stadium I had missed my favorite Angelique Kidjo and sent her out a tweet to apologize. Listening to her on radio on the way though I pictured an energized crowd soaking up songs like “Agolo” from the indefatigable Beninois songstress. By the time I got to Soweto, I had also just missed Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s speech which friends all over said was powerful.

There was still a buzz from that and the stage and crowd was dripping with color as Juanes rocked the crowd. He even brought out of Black Eyed Peas’ Taboo to hype up Los Mexicanos in the crowd. After that,  many of the fans milled about waiting for the next big performer. She came in the name of Alicia and totally took down the house. Luckily, there was no roof over the stadium otherwise it was a goner. She went through three or four of her hits ending with “Empire State of Mind.”  It was hard not to sing along and dance. But when she sang a rendition of “Too late for mama,” a Brenda Fassie song with Blk Jks the South Africans in the crowd went berserk.

Blk Jks built on that energy by performing “Mzabalazo” which is a liberation song. The stomping of feet and the raised fists put me in some movie about the apartheid struggle. But these are happier times. The momentum continued to build when local hero Quinton Fortune appeared with former Manchester United striker Andy Cole to introduce K’naan whose “waving flag” song has captured people’s imagination ahead of the world cup. He came out with a Somalian flag and the crowd needed no instructions to wave their own flags. Needless to say, South African flags were in the majority. 

The house continued rocking with local kwaito act, Big Nuz. There’s something about the kwaito rhythm that forces you to get up and dance and this was no different. Let’s just hope that they weren’t one of those local acts who are reported not to have been paid for their performances.  

Shakira’s hips as you know don’t lie but her performance in the beginning was heavy on sex appeal and light on actual singing. The crowd seemed to be energized by their knowledge of her songs than by the live performance. Until she performed the official world cup song, “Waka Waka” with local acts, it was a halting performance. But the Zangelewa song is familiar to many Africans and it is hard to knock Shakira too much. 

But don’t just take it from me. Here’s another account. Danny Jordaan came out with Jerome Valcke and said “We’re not going to sleep because on the 11th of June, the world cup is going to start on African soil.” My night did not end there as I reluctantly drove through the streets of Soweto for a couple of hours. I saw two street parties with at least 50 people at each one. The first one had fireworks to go with the dancing and singing. The second one was a procession through the streets with vuvuzelas in hand and stomping of feet.  Clearly, Mr. Jordaan’s memo was well-distributed.

But then I woke up with a worsened flu, the result of my late night perhaps and the news that one of Mandela’s grandkids died in a car accident and it was hard not to pause and put the world cup in perspective. Is this all worth it? 

Sepp Blatter’s put paid to any reticence with his speech. And when South African president Jacob Zuma declared “this is an African world cup. The time for Africa has come. It has arrived,” we knew it was on. 

Of course you didn’t need any reminders after Osibisa, Femi Kuti and Hugh Masekela had already indicated what time it was on the stage at soccer city. An African-do time!!! 

But then the games really began and while we had shown that an African country could organize a world event, we still had some catching up to do on the pitch. Mexico dominated the initial exchanges as South Africa suffered from the weight of expectations. Mexico had a seemingly legitimate goal disallowed. Of course, it was legitimate to those of us who have taken our understanding of the offside rule for granted. In what turned out to be a tale of two halves though South Africa grew stronger and more confident as the game went on and when the shot seen around the world occurred I and a whole continent was ecstatic!!!  Tshabalala broke down the left flank and unleashed a rocket of a shot in the 55th minute. Goal. While Mexico came back to deservedly tie the game, the whole day felt like one giant win and even though I was not in the stadium or at a fan park as I wished, it occurred to me that in that moment, I could have been anywhere in the world and I would still have felt on top of it!!!

Musicians show support to Stars in Pretoria

There is only one way to describe my day Wednesday. MADNESS!!! So it is no wonder that it led to a meeting with an entertainer for whom madness is a way of life. I woke up to the sound of vuvuzelas outside my window and a beautiful sunrise. My plan was to visit the Ghana team hotel after picking up my accreditation by Soccer City in Soweto. But then I found out that Ghana’s team had made the decision to change their hotel the previous night after some pressure from the players who were dissatisfied with the Roode Vallei lodge in Pretoria. The final official word is that there were “unresolved technical issues.”

Meanwhile, South African fans lined the streets of Johannesburg to wish the Bafana Bafana well. They did this by blowing their car horns and vuvuzelas loudly, and wearing yellow and green replica shirts or anything with those colors. There were also scarves and face paint with the flag’s design. It was a colorful parade and the excitement was palpable. The party went on throughout the morning but I left the revelers and got to soccer city by midday. The mood in the parts of Johannesburg I have been is one which is reflected in the words on a store clerk’s t-shirt, “Bafana Bafana, It’s our time.” And that showed in the people lining up streets, peering over highway bridges and filling public places.

Seeing the calabash stadium up close at soccer city, I couldn’t help but agree with the feeling that it is indeed our time. That does not refer to being two hours ahead of GMT (South African time) but more an indication of continent’s readiness.  And to borrow a company’s advertising slogan, it speaks to an “African-do spirit.” From the concept of the stadium’s design to it’s function, there is an African-do spirit is evident. It is a sentiment that many Africans share. From Samuel Eto’o to Kofi Annan to the ordinary African fan on the street, many are filled with pride.

Pride gave way to frustration for me though in my journey to Pretoria. On the way, my guide “Alhaji,” a Ghanaian working in Johannesburg mentioned that Kwao Kese was in Pretoria. I thought it would be a good interview to have. After spinning round in circles for about two hours, we found Meyers Park. And there he was, tall, with dreadlocks and sporting the biggest smile for his friend, Alhaji aka Osonka(a nickname Kesse insisted on using). The interview with Kese is below. 

With him was the executioner, Obrafour, whose small frame belies his stature in Ghanaian music circles. His generous spirit also shone through when he gave an impromptu freestyle session and made a promo for 

His interview is below as well. 

From there we all squeezed into a couple of cars and headed to Eesterust where the Black Stars played a match against an amateur side as their preparations continued. I got there with the Stars already up 3-0.  They eventually won 4-0. The musicians interacted with some of the players who all seemed relaxed. Whether this was as a result of their comfortable win, the players getting their wish to move camp or seeing musicians showing them love, I am not sure. 

All in all, a good day filled with many twists and turns.

Rainbow Glimpses

“Chicken or beef please” seems to be the refrain these days on many an airline – at least for those of us who see business class as en route to economizing. And so it was on my flight to South Africa. I settled for chicken. When I asked for a ginger ale, there was a quizzical look from a member of the predominantly Bulgarian crew. After repeating ginger ale and getting a blank stare that urged me to pick something less fancy, I obliged and said coke. That is universal enough. I know we are one and all but a Bulgarian crew on a Southern African airline’s flight from Accra to Johannesburg is something I still cannot not get my mind around. Add some Mexican fans passing through Accra and I guess on the way to the only truly global sporting event, it was appropriate. But when my next request produced a pineapple juice I was not so enthused. This time I insisted. Apple juice please. Getting two drinks for the price of one is great I guess so sure, one love.

That gratuity was extended right after passing through the customs checkpoint at OR Tambo airport when a generous man handed me a phone chip. I thought, great, this is going to be one hell of a trip. To guardians of the South African economy, I am proud to inform you that the freebies have ceased. I had heard before I arrived that South Africa was expensive but these days cheap living is as rare as American victories over England I guess. So I took it for granted and it went through one ear and out the other.

But you cannot help but make quick judgments as to how much one is spending as soon as you land. You ask for a breakfast sandwich and divide whatever price is mentioned by 7 and realize that she effectively said nine US dollars for a meal . You see, over here, the magic number is 7.  I always like to get a sense of how prices of goods are relatively. Economists have a term for it and I think it is purchasing power parity.

My first impression of South Africa was of the airport though. Wow. Oliver Tambo must be proud of the improvements made in his honor/name to the airport but would probably be happier if he was alive to own the real estate. But my eyes really popped when a sales lady said “140 rand” for a vuvuzela. Granted that it was branded with rainbow nation colors but as my darling mother would suggest, that is three square meals a day for some. Only to make the sound of bees? I assured myself that there would be better vuvuzelas- ones that make the sound of elephants perhaps. By that I meant free promotional ones.

But you ain’t seen nothing yet. Ladies and gentlemen, Sandton. Someone said Sandton is the Accra Mall of South Africa. I think he meant to say Accra Mall wants to be the Sandton of Ghana. Or that Sandton and Tysons Corner mall in Virginia, USA are cousins.

Upon leaving the airport, when I saw a sign that pointed to Croydon, I forgot for a moment that I was in South Africa. The prices in Sandton suggested I may actually be in a shop on London’s high street. There is something about the temperatures being below 15 degrees that screams, GET A HAT!!! But when I went to one shop and saw that I could keep it warm for 500 rand, I said no chance. But there are bargains and I eventually found one for 148.

Nonetheless, I am here and would not trade it for the world. The tournament starts tomorrow and the excitement continues to build. On Tuesday, some passengers were fortunate to use the only high speed train service in Africa, the Gautrain. Flags are everywhere especially on vehicles. Some side mirrors even have flags as sleeves. Fans and members of the media from all over the world continue to troop in. As one local resident said in response to all the foot and increased vehicular traffic, ‘THEY ARE HERE!”





Fellow fans, I owe you a major apology. I have been here in South Africa for a couple of days now and have not been able to post updates on my blog. Between the cold (I am a man from the tropics and anything below 15 degrees Celsius is freezing), my cold (I am treating it aggressively) and transport (you can’t get around effectively in South Africa without a car and they drive on the same side as the English), I have been limited. Ultimately, it comes down to me so I borrow musician Akon’s PR methods and say sorry, blame it on me! And if you want to go back into time, I am in the same predicament as Tracy Chapman and have only the magic word of apology to rely on. It is all I can say.  I am working on a couple of posts and will bring those to you today. As you can imagine and as some of you have seen from my twitter feed, it has been quite hectic. Yesterday, there was a parade for the Bafana Bafana and the home crowd was out in full force. I will show you some of those pictures as well as my day trying to get to a Black Stars training match in Pretoria.  Or was it Mamelodi?  Perhaps, Eesterust? It was a ride filled with uncertainty and scant information and unreliable directions. In the process, I met a mad man and a lyrical genius. Again, those of you on twitter would know who I am talking about. To the rest, thanks for your patience and stay tuned.

Ghana vs Latvia: Recap


Quincy Owusu-Abeyie's lone goal brings relief to Ghana


Do we have our mojo back? Did Ghana’s 1-0 win over Latvia convince fans who had lost all hope  that we will now go on and go far in the tournament? Before you head off to bet your life savings on Ghana to win the competition let us consider what went well and what did not.  

First of all, we dominated the ball possession throughout the game even though the scoreline did not reflect that. And yet, we all know the difference between winners and losers is goals. We scored only one goal (two, if Asamoah Gyan’s clearly legitimate goal was given). Depending on how you look at it our record of two goals in two matches is a source of worry or nothing to worry about. 

Black Stars nation should be hopeful because after a sobering loss against the Dutch, the players came back against Latvia with resolve and mental strength. They delivered a much improved and more encouraging performance. It turns out that the sky is not falling on us and one loss in a friendly does not a world cup campaign make. Of course, the reverse is the same. A pre-world cup friendly win does not guarantee success in the competition. But it helps. 

Especially when the positives extend beyond showing mental strength. We found out that the Stars could actually find each other with pinpoint passes as opposed to giving the ball away carelessly.  The performance of debutante Kevin-Prince Boateng  who was playing in an unusual holding midfield role (Essien’s usual position) and the continued brilliance of Kwadwo Asamoah are something to look forward to. Both are players! 

John Mensah played 59 minutes and appears to have escaped injury. Rajevac and the medical team are clearly managing his minutes with the ultimate goal of having him ready for Ghana’s crucial opening match against the Serbs.

Anthony Annan continued to impress and provided steady cover for his backline, consistently cutting out the Latvians’ attacks. 

One of the few reservations I have is that the defense was not tested too much. The test we will face from the Serbs is likely to be somewhere on the scale of what the Latvians offered to what the Dutch did. Let me stick my neck out and say it will be closer to the Dutch. Therefore, it would have been useful for this ‘first team’ to deal with that kind of threat together in a real match so as to build trust. You can’t have it all though. 

Despite not being threatened, Lee Addy showed versatility in switching from a center back to left back. He did not lack for pace even though that observation comes with the caveat that he wasn’t facing players of Cristiano Ronaldo or Arjen Robben’s pace and skill. Still, it was encouraging that coach Rajevac seems to have identified a player who if he has not made the case for starting can at least fill in in any event. To that end, Rajevac seems to have two outfield players for every position and this team should be able to plug in one like for like player in the case of injury or suspension. 

The same cannot be said for our goalkeeping. Daniel Agyei had the chance to cement his role as the deputy to Richard Kingson but the way he flapped at a couple of crosses would make a duck proud. Rajevac would likely have serious doubts putting him in in the event Kingson was unavailable. Going back to our March friendly against Bosnia, Agyei has had the opportunities but always leaves doubt as to whether he is ready for this level of football. Unfortunately, the fact that this is our last match means we will not be able to see Stephen Ahorlu in a match situation for the Black Stars. Hopefully, the coaches have watched enough of the local leagues to get a sense of what Ahorlu can do in games. Of course, it could well be that they have watched enough games to know he is certainly not ready. I am not sure which thought is more comforting.

Ultimately though, this final test was about being healthy heading into the world cup. Apart from Sulley Muntari, there is no newly injured player a week to the start of our tournament. Provided this trend continues and everyone is fit especially John Mensah, then we can remain positive heading into the first match against the formidable Serbs. After all, the news about John Obi Mikel, Didier Drogba, Arjen Robben, Rio Ferdinand and our own Sulley Muntari shows how unpredictable a footballer’s health can be .

So, Black Stars fans, as I prepare to touch down in South Africa in the next couple of days, let’s pray for health.

Ghana vs Latvia


Some fans are fickle, others loyal to the end. Which one are you?


I have heard some stories of fans having second thoughts about traveling to South Africa after the “Rotterdam Romp.” The Black Stars have an opportunity to win back some of them this afternoon when they play 46th-ranked Latvia. While some may snicker at Latvia or roll their eyes as to the level of opposition, you need only look at France’s result against China to know there are no longer any minnows in football. Therefore this should be a reasonable test for the Stars. It should be a test of how much cohesion they have developed over the last few days, a test of fitness and tactics. Above all, this is a test of our mental strength.

It cannot have been easy on the players losing 4-1 and it is imperative for the Stars’ psyche to have a positive feeling going into the World Cup. After all, let us not forget that we are on a three-game losing streak and have had to deal with one piece of bad news after another.  Often in sports, a string of positive news begets more positive news and vice versa. And I know that they will give the usual spiel that they are professionals and win or lose they will give their all but losing badly weighs on their minds. They are only human. 

Update: Ghana won 1-0 against Latvia through a 88th minute Quincy Owusu-Abeyie strike in what was an improved performance. With a week to go to Ghana’s first match against Serbia it was great to see some cohesion. More to come later.

Opponents Watch: Serbia


Branislav Ivanovic's overlapping crosses are a threat to Ghana


As many of you saw from my tweets, I watched the Serbia – Poland game yesterday to get a sense of who the Serbs are. The game ended 0-0 and if you ask me, the Poles looked the more prepared team and they are not even going to the world cup. They clearly have used their downtime wisely. Both teams had chances to score and were probably affected by the pouring rain which made the turf slippery. The tackles came in hard and fast and I cannot imagine any player escaping without bruises. 

That said, I have to say this is my first time watching the Serbs and they looked as solid as you can in a friendly game totally impacted by the elements. In a way, they play like a typically Eastern European team. They don’t do anything too flashy and are efficient. You don’t think they are outplaying you but let your guard down and before you know it they are 2-0 up. Given the weather, take the following with tiny, tiny amount of Ada Songhor Lagoon salt.

Defensively, the Serbs cede the flanks and play a compact defense. The speed of Poland on the wings bothered them and caused some anxious moments for Coach Radomir “Raddy” Antic’s men. They play compact so that there is no way to go through the middle of their defense. Manchester United’s Nemanja Vidic did not play in this game and I imagine they will have fewer nervous moments when he is in. Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic was resolute as a central defender  in the first half but more dynamic in the second when he shifted to his more usual right back role. He launched some fluid attacks down the right flank and those who have seen him play for Chelsea know that any striker worth his salt would die to be at the end of his crosses. 

Attacking-wise, the Serbs’ strategy seems to be to catch you on the break with swift counter attacks. With Inter Milan’s Dejan Stankovic playing more of a creative central midfield role than at his club, they have the man to spring the forwards whenever their opponents lose the ball. A couple of times when the Poles were careless in possession in the center of the pitch the Serbs broke and outnumbered the Polish defenders. The Ghanaian defenders would do well to practice their four v three and three v two defending because the Serbs are coming. Also the Ghanaian midfielder must be even more aware of where he is on the pitch when he takes risks. For instance, dilly dallying on the half way line and losing the ball will play into the Serbs’ hands. 

While the Serbs seem more advanced than Ghana in their preparations, I did not see anything to suggest they would overwhelm us if we develop a modicum of cohesion.  

Men to Watch:

Nikola Zigic- Even though he was rooted on the bench for many games, his scoring ratio is impressive. The tall and lanky forward stands at and his height could be a big problem for Ghana especially if Ivanovic is allowed to bomb down the flanks

Dejan Stankovic- At Inter Milan, he is a bench player but Serbia’s Captain is accurate in his passing and disciplined in his defending. He is not afraid to put in one or two tough challenges a game. He also has a deadly shot and defenders will be wise not to back off too much when he lines up.

Branislav Ivanovic- Those who watch the English premier league often enough know what a competitor this guy is. He is rarely beaten defensively and gives any team he is on that added attacking option.

Nemanja Vidic- Need I say more? Game in and game out he has been one of the best defenders in the Premier league. He brings tenacity, toughness and is rock-solid at the back. Asamoah Gyan will have to dig deep and use some guile to get past this fella. 

Stay tuned. Ghana vs Serbia, June 13, 14:00 GMT.

Did you see that?


The panic button

Fans are already pushing this button after the Dutch destroyed Ghana 4-1


One cedi for anyone who immediately understood that headline was a variation of Steve Urkel’s “Did I do that?” line in “Family Matters,” a sitcom Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC) brought to us in the 90s. Those were the days. We had no choice but to watch it. GBC was the only station out there. The station for the nation. It’s the new millenium though and  we have a few options and the Ghana vs Netherlands friendly match was brought to us on a couple of them. But does that matter when the Electricity Corporation of Ghana does not cooperate? 60 minutes into the game, it was lights out. 

As in, the lights out went out while I was watching the game. Or as we exclaim in Ghana, “Light OFF!!!” followed or preceded by some variation of “OOOOOOOOOOOOO.” Unbelievable. Shortly after that and thank God for cellphones, I gathered from twitter that it was lights out on the pitch as Ghana went down 2-0.

A quick call to my uncle for an update and right on cue Asamoah Gyan scored. 2-1. Good luck charm. But not for long.  A couple of minutes later, his number flashed on my phone. I thought 2-2! 3-1. He didn’t even bother calling after the fourth goal. We were outclassed.

And so it is. My analysis is restricted to 60 minutes.

In the first ten minutes, I thought we looked threatening especially from the right flank. After 25 minutes, there was no such impression. We couldn’t win the ball back as the Dutch stroked it around. Once they broke the initial press from our forwards, there was little resistance. I thought our high line would be exploited and we looked uncoordinated at the back. After 30 minutes, it was 1-0. We chased the game from that moment. 

I thought we started off the second half with the kind of aggression needed for Milovan Rajevac’s system. He brought in some youth and they were flying all over the place. 

In the 60th minute, there was a black out. Apparently it affected the players too. 

But as friendlies go, this result has no direct bearing on our chances at the world cup. I would not fret too much about the score. As we say here, “No Shaking!”

While embarrassing, Rajevac probably got what he wanted out of it. He was able to assess a few players who he may be considering for a starting role in a match situation. My guess is he was not impressed. He was also able to try out a couple of different tactics.

I want to wait until after the Latvia game on saturday before coming anywhere close to a “the sky is falling”  assessment.

Ka-Pow!!! Kingston Downs Milo


Laryea Kingston in a more celebratory mood


Forgive the sensational headline. I just could not help it. Mr. Laryea Kingston seems to be on everyone’s mind. Kingston is accused of getting ready to pounce on poor Milovan Rajevac as the coach informed Kingston of his exclusion from the squad. Is zoom-zoom Nelson in the house, anyone? Of course, this could all have been lost in translation. Kingston could have said “KwE, mini?” in a very loud voice,  been ready to pound a table in frustration and the confusion set in.

I had not commented until now because there was some dispute as to whether the alleged incident took place at all. Ghana Football Association spokesperson, Randy Abbey insisted no such thing happened and dared the journalist who published the story, Yaw Ampofo Ankrah to name his source(s) and you knew that wasn’t going to happen. Ankrah came back and said he stood by his source(s). 

The plane still left without Kingston. He could not even “aplanke” to Scotland. Meanwhile his reputation continues to take a hit. He was not exactly Saint Kingston in Scotland partly due to a falling out with Hearts’ previous coach Csaba Laszlo. Between that and disillusion from Hearts fans after he said he would choose Ghana over Hearts and you can see why he would need a public relations expert to clean up his image. 

Kingston missed the last world cup through suspension and he misses this one and then becomes a villain. Add to the fact that he is out of contract at his Scottish club Hearts after injuries and it’s been a tough year. 

I have to say even though I predicted he would be cut, I feel sorry for him.