Gyan's goal & the highs of Africa's World Cup

Ghana’s extra-time strike against the US has given the home continent a moment to remember, writes James Lawton. But which incident will live on for you?
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The Independent Football

It was not the most aesthetically pleasing goal of this World Cup, and it didn't quite provoke the celebratory dance that enshrined Roger Milla of the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon in the gallery of the most uplifting moments in 80 years of the great tournament.

But Ghana's Asamoah Gyan made a fair challenge when he guided the Black Stars past the United States to become only the third African team to reach the quarter-finals – and so did a whole continent saddened by the early demise of some of its best hopes.

In some ways Gyan's strike was the most important to be scored here so far because it crystallised the best argument for bringing the World Cup to Africa.

It is that the African nations, so long bedevilled by half-cocked if not corrupt administration, are given hard evidence that their place in the world game goes beyond supplying a stream of brilliantly equipped footballers to the powerbrokers of the European game.

Gyan is a classic example of the African mercenary footballer who in the past has been grateful to get the chance to make his mark – and maybe his fortune – in a foreign game which has often seen him as a handy but easily disposed resource.

In his stint with Udinese in the Italian league he had moments which provoked talks of moves to leading clubs in England, with Manchester United mentioned, and Russia. But such hopes fell through, largely because of other deals being worked by the Italians failed, and now the Ghanaian performs for French club Rennes.

This last weekend, though, he was carrying the colours of all of Africa when he held off the challenge of the American defence and swept his team into a quarter-final against Uruguay.

"Yes," said the 24-year-old, "we were playing not just for our country but our continent. We said in the dressing room that there had been too many disappointments, too many blows to African pride. There was only one solution. We had to fight."

Ghana have not yet claimed the high ground owned by Cameroon in Italy in 1990, when they ambushed the holders Argentina 1-0 in the opening game in San Siro and gave England a harrowing examination in the quarter-final in Naples, when Gary Lineker, no less, was required to rescue his team from the penalty spot.

Nor have the Black Stars matched the striking impression of the Teranga Lions of Senegal in South Korea and Japan eight years ago. With El Hadji Diouf making promises he has only rarely made good, Senegal beat another team of reigning champions, France, on a rainy night in Seoul before ebbing away against Turkey in the quarter-finals.

Ghana, though, have refused to accept the possibility that Africa might be swept en bloc off the international stage in the first phase of sudden death action. Such a humiliation was looming in Rustenburg on Saturday night when the United States, playing the more persuasive football, threatened to deliver the kind of late killing touch that beat Algeria the other day and condemned England to their latest brush with Armageddon against Germany.

One by one Africa's hopes had perished. South Africa's beloved Bafana Bafana came up critically short and are now engaged in a controversy over the appointment of their next coach. They can't decide between investing heavily in another foreigner like Brazil's former World Cup winner Carlos Alberto Parreira or give the job to a home-grown coach. Nigeria are split by civil war in the dressing room, with charges that captain Kanu is too subservient to the officals of the national association. Ivory Coast, who played with such promise in Germany four years ago, can only mourn Didier Drogba's fitness problems.

As the pictures to the right show, there have of course been many other moments at this World Cup so far that will live on in the minds of those watching, but Gyan's goal justly takes its place among them. It was indeed a depressing tide turned back when he raced through the American defence. He showed the heart of African football was still beating. It was the most timely and valuable of gifts.

Reasons to be cheerful:

Glenn Moore selects the best moments of the World Cup so far. Vote above for your favourite.

1.The opening goal

Siphiwe Tshabalala’s stunning strike for South Africa against Mexico gave the tournament impetus. The hosts did not progress, but Tshabalala showed they would not be disgraced.

2. Kiwis shock holders

The All Whites have an unfortunate nickname, given the location, but New Zealand caught the imagination, especially when former AFC Wimbledon striker Shane Smeltzput them ahead against the decrepit, dethroned champions.

3.The Gyan goal

Ghana’s striker Asamoah Gyan powers away from the USA defence to keep the African dream alive.

4. The beautiful long ball

Simon Kjaer’s 60-yard, crossfield ball to Dennis Rommedahl is the pass of the tournament: proof that the long ball need not be ugly. It was rewarded with Rommedahl’s superb first touch and Nicklas Bendtner’s goal.

5. Jermain Defoe’s goal – and John Terry’s attempt to block with his head

There will be few highs to look back on from the England perspective. But Defoe’s goal made us cheer. Terry, to his credit, then led by example as England held on to progress.

6. France’s meltdown

Oh how they laughed in Dublin, and everywhere else, as the French imploded. The image of the players sulking on the bus after refusing to train, and the chief executive ripping off his accreditation in disgust, will take years to live down.

7. Maicon’s thunderbolt

Brazil are yet to hit their stride in this tournament,but Maicon’s outrageous goal against North Korea was one of those on-your feet moments the selecao can produce. Hopefully there are more to come.