In the last moments of the US and Ghana game last Saturday, red, white and blue teardrops were frozen by the icy, winter night.‚ It was clear the US was going home. Actually, that seemed pretty clear from the outset when the team gave up a goal in the first ten minutes, something they got quite good at this World Cup. Americans have an underdog complex when it comes to soccer, but these guys took it a little too far.
The remote Rustenberg stadium is‚ set in the middle of Bafokeng Kingdom and its small size gave the match a similar feeling to that of a high school football game somewhere in rural Texas or Ohio. One of the most enjoyable aspects of this World Cup is that going to the stadiums is still a local affair:‚ Stands are full of people who walked to the game from their houses with blankets, hot tea, and food. For locals, tickets are reasonably priced--around ten dollars--so they can afford to be part of this momentous event in South Africa.
I stood at the top of the stands, right in the middle, and secretly hoped that like the white dress wearing Glenn Close in The Natural, my hero Clint Dempsey would see me and get out of his slump to win the game.‚ Two rows in front of me were a couple of screaming fans although they had a third team in mind; they shook their Israeli flag and sang the chorus of Hava Nagila the entire night, interspersed with about ten Budweisers.‚ THAT, my friends, is way more annoying than vuvuzelas.
The news that Americans had bought the most World Cup tickets of any country seemed a little far fetched as chants of USA were hard to decipher. ( I did hear a faint Southern accent singing the national anthem from a luxury box--Bill, was that you?!).‚ There were lots of stars and stripes and even a few "don't tread on me" flags, but the mood among the Americans was subdued, even morose.
And yet, the stadium was boisterous, warm, and fun.‚ Why? WE'RE IN AFRICA, that's why.‚ The Ghanaian fans danced to every song over the loudspeaker, Bob Marley, Beyonce, even the national anthems. They were out in force eagerly supporting the Black Stars, the only team from the continent to make it out of the first round.‚ Many Ghanaians in the stadium wore graduation gowns the colors of the Ghana flag.‚ Tonight, they told me, was their "graduation" because they were moving onto the next grade once they won.‚ ‚ But not all the Black Star fans were Ghanaian. Every South African wore a Ghana scarve and wove a Ghana flag. The host country had picked up the cause of their African neighbor's‚ and were determined to cheer them to victory.
Ghana responded.‚ They finished enough chances and fell down at the right moments, clutching their arms, legs and, in one case what looked like an appendix, draining precious minutes from the game.‚ Something special was certainly brewing in an old South African mining town that night.
With twenty minutes left in the game I looked down from my perch and saw a curious figure.‚ A man in a short sleeve shirt with a Ghanaian flag for a cape and a neon green wig, had moved into the stairway and was dancing furiously and rhythmically.‚ Right with a fist pump, left with a fist pump, back and forth, over and over and over.‚ I descended to get a closer look, and saw that his eyes were completely focused, staring at the field but conjuring something.‚ Something big.
As his dancing continued into the last minutes of the game, two Good Ol' Boys with star spangled face paint decided to try and wake the Ghanaian from his dream.‚ "USA, USA, USA..." they chanted in‚ his ears, louder and louder.‚ The man calmly rotated his dance to face them, and raised his index finger to his lips.‚ ‚ The "USA" chants stopped, abruptly, like somebody had yanked the stereo cord from the electrical socket.‚ The man returned to staring at the field as though in a trance, right fist pump, left fist pump.
I knew there would be no last second comeback for the US team this time.‚ Much more powerful elements were at play in the Bafokeng Kingdom. A crowd of African nations had unified behind their team, and a focused man, clothed in a Ghanaian flag and a neon green wig, was dancing his Black Stars to victory.