Ghana vow to 'hold high the flag of Africa' after dramatic extra-time victory

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The Independent Online

The President of Ghana led the nation's squad in prayers on Saturday shortly before they beat the United States 2-1 to reach the World Cup quarter-finals for the first time.

John Atta Mills spoke to the players in the dressing room, giving them a pep talk before they prayed together, Ghana Football Association vice-president Fred Pappoe said.

"It made a lot of difference to the boys," said Pappoe, who is also head of management for the Black Stars. "We always pray – before a game, in the bus, in the hotel and also on the pitch before each half and afterwards, no matter what the result. But to have our president here and sitting in the stands next to [Fifa president] Sepp Blatter was a solid morale-booster for the team. When he came to the dressing room, to see the boys, and to pep them up, it meant a lot."

Rising to the challenge of a charged evening, they carried their continent's hopes with pride and passion to become the third African nation ever to reach the World Cup's last eight.

Goals by thrusting midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng after just five minutes and then from striker Asamoah Gyan – who ran onto a long ball from midfield, shrugged off two defenders and fired home a venomous shot – three minutes into added time carried them to victory after Landon Donovan had converted a second-half penalty.

Ghana, who face Uruguay in the quarter-finals at Soccer City in Johannesburg on Friday, are the only African team still in the tournament following the group stage exits of hosts South Africa, Nigeria, Algeria, Cameroon and Ivory Coast.

Their emotional extra-time win at the Royal Bafokeng stadium sparked wild celebrations as the players ran round the field with the South African and Ghanaian flags amid a riot of vuvuzela-led noise.

Pappoe said the Ghana players were aware of their extra responsibility now they were Africa's sole representative. "It means a lot but it brings a lot of pressure and expectation and, of course, it would be lighter for them if there were one or two other African countries still in the competition.

"But we take this in our stride and our boys are playing to do their best and to reach their limits. We are the only team holding high the flag of Africa now so it is a moment of great pride for us, but we take it also in all humility."

He added that the president's visit had helped calm the players' nerves. "They were, surprisingly, not nervous at all because they have faith in the coach and believe that if they play by the rules all will be fine," he said.

"We take one game at a time and now go to the drawing board again and look at Uruguay to examine the mentality and resilience of that team. And, with the great support of Africa, I am sure we can go beyond them."

United States (4-4-2): Howard; Cherundolo, DeMerit, Bornstein, Bocanegra; Donovan, Bradley, Clark (Edu, 30), Dempsey; Altidore (Gomez, 91), Findley (Feilhaber, 46).

Ghana (4-4-2): Kingson; Pantsil, Mensah, Mensah, Sarpei (Addy, 73); Annan, Inkoom (Muntari, 113), Boateng (Appiah, 78), Ayew; Asamoah, Gyan.

Referee: V Kassai (Hungary).

Attendance: 34,976.

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