South Africa take the Black Stars to heart in their bid for history

Uruguay v Ghana: 7.30pm, Johannesburg, ITV1
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Those of a nervous disposition will be wise to avoid Accra, the Ghanaian capital, tonight. To judge by the bedlam created by the national football team's first win in this tournament against Serbia – a leading news presenter broke with protocol by blowing the vuvuzela trumpet before the start of the major evening bulletin that evening – the prospect of Milovan Rajevac's side pitching the flag of an African nation in a World Cup semi-final for the first time in the tournament's history will have the country living on the edge.

At least Rajevac's players have not found the tension quite so bad, ahead of the quarter-final with Uruguay at Soccer City this evening. At the Sun City Hotel which they have made their base, the players have been regular fixtures playing table football in the lobby over the past few weeks and performed their team dance for the benefit of all-comers there on Wednesday night.

South Africa has embraced them as their standard-bearer, responding with wild delight to the Ghanaian fans who have been touring Johannesburg in an open-top bus all week, beating out a rhythm and summoning support for the Black Stars, who are only the third African team, after Cameroon and Senegal, to have reached the last eight of a World Cup.

Beaten finalists in the Africa Cup of Nations, Ghana always looked the most likely of the African sides to progress to a semi-final but no one could quite envisage the World Cup's youngest side – boasting several players who won the Fifa Under-20 World Cup last year – holding its nerve.

The striker Asamoah Gyan, whose three goals in the tournament to go with one four years ago makes him second to Roger Milla among Africans at the World Cup at the tender age of 24, was never likely to lose his.

"I did expect to score goals here because I did so well for my club and the confidence is there," he said yesterday. "When I am 100 per cent fit, I know what I can do on the field and I thank God for that. People compare me with big names like Lionel Messi and I'm happy to hear that." His last declaration was the most memorable: "I don't have a swollen head but with the qualities I have, I will go places."

Gyan, who despite being hampered by an ankle injury, should be the fulcrum of the Ghanaian attack tonight, looks ungainly and is not a picture of composure but holds the ball up and so preoccupies opposition defences that Ghana can field three or four midfield creators to push on into the space created.

Kwadwo Asamoah, the engine room of the Cup of Nations side, has been foremost among them. The side's fast, slick, if occasionally headless, style is unusual in west Africa where the game has become increasingly direct and based on power and it was something on which the Uruguayan coach, Oscar Tabarez, focused last night.

"Ghana have strong, fast players with good dribbling. They are very fast when they are running with the ball. We have our expectations but we know we have no guarantees," he said.

Uruguay, in their first quarter-final since 1970, clearly carry the torch of the World Cup-winning sides of 1930 and 1950, though Ghana, who had not even secured independence from Britain in 1950, carry the expectations of a country which has always bound up football with a sense of nationhood.

The Black Stars were given their nickname by Kwame Nkrumah, the first leader of independent Ghana, recalling the transatlantic shipping line established by Marcus Garvey, the Jamaican father of pan-Africanism, to undo the wrongs of slavery. In the 1950s and 1960s, that star was huge, taking over the entire front of Ghana's white shirts.

The nation showed football ambition at that time, appointing Stanley Matthews in 1957 to advise on tactics. It was after a visit to Hungary that the Ghanaian FA decided English football was too conservative and appointed a Hungarian, Joszef Ember, to lead them, then Ghanaians who made the 1960s side a strong one.

Many have wondered how they might have fared in the 1966 tournament, had they not been denied the chance when the African confederation (CAF) boycotted the tournament in protest at Fifa's decision to allocate only one place to African sides. Some feel the present side is the strongest since those days.

Kevin-Prince Boateng is likely to recover from a hamstring trouble, Sulley Mantari comes in for the suspended Andre Ayew and centre-half Isaac Vorsah returns from injury.

Ghana's media manager wrapped up Rajevac's press conference by declaring that, "God willing, we will see you for our next one before the semi-final." That's exactly just how it felt in Accra, where last night they were erecting giant TV screens and preparing special prayer sessions to invoke divine intervention.

Africa's World Cup: A continent's achievements so far

Algeria

Group C Won 0, drew 1, lost 2 (4th)

Fortunate to qualify ahead of Egypt, the Algerians regarded holding England 0-0 as a cause for celebration, but did not envisage failing to score in the two other games as well.

Cameroon

Group E Won 0, drew 0, lost 3 (4th)

The only side at the finals apart from North Korea not to earn a single point; and theirs was no group of death. Losing by only one goal to Holland, Japan and Denmark was little consolation.

Ghana

Group D Won 1, drew 1, lost 1 (2nd)

The one African side to come out of the group stage, although only with the same number of points as South Africa and Ivory Coast. But they have shown up well against Germany and the US.

Ivory Coast

Group G Won 1, drew 1, lost 1 (3rd)

No luck when Didier Drogba was unable to start the crucial first game against Portugal, or when Luis Fabiano handled twice before scoring for Brazil. Their best-ever squad still underachieved.

Nigeria

Group B Won 0, drew 1, lost 2 (4th)

Sacking their coach before the finals did not bring improvement. Even so, narrow defeats to Argentina and Greece hardly justifies the government's decision to disband the team for two years.

South Africa

Group A Won 1, drew 1, lost 1 (3rd)

Bafana Bafana scored the first goal of the tournament – a fine one by Siphiwe Tshabalala – and saved face by defeating a demoralised France, but showed their naivety in collapsing against Uruguay.

African quarter-finalists

Cameroon 1990

After Morocco's narrow failure in 1986 (losing 1-0 to West Germany) Roger Milla and Cameroon went one step further and could easily have knocked out England. They led 2-1 before Gary Lineker's second penalty beat them in extra time.

Senegal 2002

Having beaten the holders, France, in the opening game, Senegal held Denmark and Uruguay, then knocked out Sweden with Henri Camara's goal before coming up against Turkey. They were beaten, only 1-0, by a golden goal in extra time.

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