x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Red-carpet treatment for Ghana

A day after their devastating shoot-out loss to Uruguay in the quarter-finals, the Ghanaian players received a South African version of red-carpet treatment.

Richard Kingston, the Ghana goalkeeper, left, greets Nelson Mandela yesterday, a day after Ghana had exited the World Cup in a penalty shoot-out.
Richard Kingston, the Ghana goalkeeper, left, greets Nelson Mandela yesterday, a day after Ghana had exited the World Cup in a penalty shoot-out.

JOHANNESBURG // The heartbreak lingered, yet Ghana's football team exited from the World Cup in heroic fashion after coming within an inches-too-high penalty kick of advancing further than any African team in history. A day after their devastating shoot-out loss to Uruguay in the quarter-finals, the Ghanaian players received a South African version of red-carpet treatment. They made visits yesterday to the homes of former president Nelson Mandela and his ex-wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, both icons of the anti-apartheid movement.

"It was a big privilege for me and the players," said Richard Kingson, the Ghana goalkeeper, after meeting Madikizela-Mandela in Soweto. "She advised our life and our future, and how to be a good guy and how to control things." Sowetans greeted the players with applause and cheers as they got off their police-escorted bus, which bore a sign reading, "The Hope of Africa". After the Soweto visit, the team drove back to visit Mandela at his mansion in Johannesburg's affluent Houghton neighbourhood.

The meeting was closed to journalists, but the Nelson Mandela Foundation afterward commended the Ghana team. "They represented the continent well," it said. "They can return home with their heads held high." The governing African National Congress chimed in, expressing discouragement that once again no African team had reached the semi-finals, yet lauding Ghana's performance. "Well-done Ghana for doing the continent, mother Africa and all of us as Africans proud," said Jackson Mthembu, the ANC spokesman. "We salute you."

Ghana's loss on Friday night could scarcely have been more agonising. With only seconds left in extra-time, and the score 1-1, Dominic Adiyiah's header was about to cross the goal line when it was stopped by the arm of Luis Suarez, the Uruguay forward. The ensuing penalty kick by Asamoah Gyan, which would have won the match, hit the bar, and Uruguay went on to win the penalty shoot-out 4-2. "I'm OK. I'm all right," Gyan told reporters outside Madikizela-Mandela's house, looking like he had shaken off some of the despair that overcame him after the missed penalty.

Rahim Ayew, a defender, said: "We just have to put it behind us and have fun. It's part of football." Asked how he felt, Sulley Muntari, the midfielder, replied, "Not really good. "But Mr Mandela and his wife - they give us some happiness. We will come back," he added. Coach Milovan Rajevac was philosophical. "We are very satisfied with everything we did," he said. "This is the biggest success in the history of Ghana, but of course we are sad after this match."

* Agencies