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Hopes of Africa ride on Ghana's Black Stars but South Africans also support Brazil.
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — As the lone African team still in the running to win the first World Cup in Africa, Ghana is picking up a cohort of new supporters among locals.
The vast majority of South Africans initially supported Bafana Bafana, the host country’s national soccer team, but after the team’s early exit many have had to pick a new favorite. For World Cup organizers and South African leaders, who have long sought to present the World Cup as an African rather than a South African event, the choice was easy.
The African National Congress (ANC), the party of Nelson Mandela that has a lock on power, said it was thanking the Black Stars “for salvaging the image of the continent in this tournament” after being the only one of six African teams to progress to the second round and also going one step further to reach the quarterfinals stage.
“We are very confident that having gone this far, you are indeed heading for the 2010 FIFA World Cup finals on our soil,” said the ANC in a statement. “We are very proud of you; as South Africa and as part of the continent of Africa, you are our pride.”
A dismal 11,000 ticket applications came from African supporters outside South Africa, governing body FIFA revealed before the tournament. A fraction of that number came from Ghana.
But the scene at Rustenburg’s Royal Bafokeng Stadium where Ghana recently defeated the United States in a second-round match told a different story. Ghanaian flags were just as numerous as those waved by Americans — a traditionally patriotic bunch — and vuvuzelas resonated louder whenever Ghana scored.
Ghana flags — red, yellow and green stripes with a black star in the center — show up at games where the team is not even playing. Some South Africans have even renamed the Black Stars “Baghana Baghana.”
Charles Rupare, 36, a Zimbabwean who lives in Johannesburg, said he’s been a fan of the Ghanaians for a long time. He said he knows former Ghana star Abedi Pele personally and particularly admires the youth and enthusiasm of the present team.
“They’ve got heart, they’ve got a passion to play,” Rupare said. “And besides, I love the flag.”
South African celebrities have also joined the Ghana fan club. Marathon runner Hendrick Ramaala told the Sowetan newspaper that “Ghana have been simply the best. It’s the real African World Cup and we are over the moon that a team from the continent is on everybody’s lips.”
The Black Stars have done their best on the field to earn the growing support. For what is only their second World Cup appearance, they have already matched the best performance by an African team — quarterfinals by Cameroon in 1990 and Senegal in 2002 — and have the opportunity to do even better if they beat Uruguay on Friday.