Ghana wins World Cup

GHANA Satellites, that West African country’s Under-20 version of the famous Black Stars of Ghana, made history at the capacity Cairo International Stadium, when they beat pre-tournament favourites and four times champions Brazil 4-3 in a pulsating shoot-out to lift the FIFA Under-20 World Cup.

Ghana’s deserved victory in an enthralling and energy-sapping final marked the first time any African country would be winning one of FIFA’s biggest prizes. And it could not have come at a better time than in a year generally referred to as Africa’s year, the year Africa hosted the FIFA Confederations Cup in South Africa earlier this year, the just finished Egypt 2009 FIFA U-20 World Cup, in a series of world extravaganzas, which will be climaxed by next year’s World Cup to be hosted in Africa, tagged South Africa 2010.

The baton of hosting has already been passed on to Nigeria, by organisers of Egypt 2009, as Nigeria, who will host the FIFA Under-17 World Cup, becomes the cynosure of the world’s eyes later this month.

It was a good omen for Africa when the courageous Ghanaian youngsters played their much-fancied Brazilian counterparts to a standstill despite losing a player to a rather harsh Red Card as early as the 37th minute.

Playing against such adversity, the young Ghanaians proved worthy ambassadors of the Black African race when they played a highly technical and disciplined game to withstand the onslaughts of the free-scoring Brazilians for at least 83 minutes, which included 30 minutes of extra-time after the regulation 90 minutes could not produce a goal from both team.

In spite of the obvious disadvantage, the Ghanaians gave as much as they took from the marauding and goal-hungry Brazilians, who were trying to win the Cup for the fifth time, a feat which would have been second only to Argentina’s six titles.

The hero of the Ghanaian triumph yesterday was striker Emmanuel Agyemang Badu, who scored the last penalty in a nerve-racking penalty shoot-out which went to sudden-death after the two countries lost two penalties each.

Ebony-skinned Dominic Adiyiah won two trophies – the golden ball and golden boot for emerging as the tournament’s top scorer with eight goals.

But Ghana also has their agile goalkeeper, Daniel Agyei, to thank for his role in the entire tournament, and in particular, for saving two penalty kicks in yesterday’s shoot-out. To underscore Agyei’s feat of keeping his country in the penalty contest, anytime his team mate missed a penalty, he caught the next one from the Brazilian penalty-taker.

Incidentally, it was Ghana, which was the first African country to qualify for next year’s World Cup in Africa, while the Black Satellites were the only country left to represent Africa at the quarter-final stage of the U-20 World Cup.

The African and South American champions, who had not lost a game during the competition, keep that proud record intact, but at the end of the day, it was the Black Satellites, who followed in the footsteps of Argentina, victors at Canada 2007, in lifting the famous trophy.

Brazil had the better of the early stages and went agonisingly close to taking the lead early on when Giuliano’s free-kick was put into the box and Alex Teixeira was inches away from connecting with a header. Giuliano prompted A Sele‹o once again, playing the ball to Paulo Henrique on the left who crossed for Alan Kardec, but his volley was wide.

Douglas stung the hands of the goalkeeper with a shot from distance, but the major talking point of the first half came in the 37th minute when David Addo was given a straight red card for a foul on Alex Teixeira, after the latter was breaking quickly on the counter attack. While the Belgian believed Addo to be the last man, the Africans protested that both Jonathan Mensah and David Addy had tracked back to cover.

Ghana, who boasted the tournament’s most prolific strikeforce in Dominic Adiyiah and Ransford Osei failed to muster a single shot on goal in a stop-start opening 45 minutes, punctuated by no fewer than 17 free-kicks, yet this was not the bruising encounter those statistics may suggest.

Abeiku Quansah had a goalbound shot saved four minutes after the break, but it was a routine stop for Rafael as Brazil did most of the pressing. Alex Teixeira should have done better, but headed wide from Diogo’s centre and Alan Kardec had a golden opportunity, but headed straight at Daniel Agyei from Souza’s cross.

As the midway point to the second half approached, Ghana had more possession, but still Brazil looked the more dangerous. Rafael Toloi slipped a perfectly-weighted pass for Alan Kardec to latch on to, but he fired wildly into the side netting. The No9 was guilty of missing yet another chance seconds later when he planted a free header from Douglas Costa’s cross over the crossbar.

There was no doubt who the 67,814 in the stadium were supporting, as there was a tremendous roar from the home fans whenever their fellow Africans crossed the halfway line and the noise levels increased further when Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu’s deflected shot forced Rafael to make a fine, low save to his right.

As the half wore on, the Black Satellites seemed to increasingly get into their rhythm of playing with ten men and their attacking forays became more and more regular, while at the back they defended with tremendous spirit. They earned the right to take the tie into extra time, but there was still drama to come in the latter stages of the 90 when Andre Ayew and Rafael Toloi clashed for the ball, the latter requiring serious treatment.

With Rogerio having made all three of his substitutions, there was a distinct possibility that Brazil would have been forced to play extra time with ten men. Yet despite running with a noticeable limp, the defender continued heroically to maintain the numerical advantage for his team.

Agyei frustrated Wellington Junior in the second period of extra time, with a smart stop at his near post, but with some players having played 11 and a half hours during this competition, the pace of the game decreased – and the game limped into a penalty shoot-out.

That was when the fireworks began. First, Alan Kardec and Ayew and Giuliano and Inkoom traded successful penalties, but Brazil got the first advantage after seeing Douglas Costa score and Jonathan Mensah miss. Souza then saw his penalty saved, but Bright Addae failed to reduce the deficit when his strike from 12 yards was comfortably claimed by Rafael.

That left Maicon with the chance of winning it for Brazil, but he blasted the chance high over the bar. Adiyiah kept his cool to take the shoot-out into sudden death. Then Agyei denied Alex Teixeira before Agyemang-Badu made the victory certain with the decisive spot-kick.