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World Cup 2010: Ghana the pride of Africa

Hopes of Africa ride on Ghana's Black Stars but South Africans also support Brazil.

As the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to gain independence in 1957, Ghana occupies a special place in the continent’s history. According to the designer of the country’s flag, the black star in the center represents Africa’s unity and emancipation. Presciently, fans through an online contest before the start of the tournament proposed “The hope of Africa” as the slogan that would adorn Ghana’s team bus.

Ghanaian players have been quick to capitalize on their new status as Africa’s last hope. After Ghana’s 2-1 victory over the U.S., midfielder Andre Ayew even put his country second.

“We fought for the African continent,” Ayew said. “We fought for Ghana.”

While Ghana has gained new supporters, not all South Africans have fallen for the continental solidarity argument. Still now, the ubiquitous flags and rearview mirror socks that decorate cars here are rarely those of Ghana.

Siya Mhlamvu, 26, who sells country flags on a street corner in Johannesburg, said sales of Ghanaian flags have been anything but brisk. He said he sold only four small ones on a recent day and has been forced to lower prices. Mhlamvu said that now that South Africa was eliminated, Ghana was one of his favorite teams but that it had nothing to do with the fact that Ghana was the only African representative left.

“They’ve got quality players,” he said. “They play fast ball.”

Team preferences are complex matters. Some fans support certain teams because they like a particular player’s skills or looks. Others fall for a team’s uniform.

Abeil Kgaphola, 36, said he prefers Brazil because he said their style of play is similar to the South African one. His favorite club team is Pretoria’s Mamelodi Sundowns, a team nicknamed “the Brazilians.”

“I’m gonna go for Brazil,” Kgaphola said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s African or not.”

His friend Jonathan Nkoana, 42, said if Brazil makes it to the final there will be “a sea of yellow” in the stadium even if the opponent is Ghana. He reckons “95 percent” of his compatriots feel the same way.

At least on Friday the support Ghana will get will have as much to do with the identity of its opponent as anything else. During the group stage Uruguay gave Bafana Bafana a drubbing that sank the team’s hopes of advancing. Cosatu, the powerful trade union, urged all South Africans to buy tickets for Friday’s match.

“We need revenge over Uruguay who humiliated Bafana Bafana,” the organization said in a statement. “Nothing more and nothing less — Uruguay must go! Viva African Black Stars!”