Joburg — Ghana's Black Stars had everything going for them last Friday when they met their Uruguay counterparts in their knockout stage of the FIFA World Cup, an event which comes to a grand finale this weekend.
They had the goodwill of almost the entire soccer world and their country was united solidly behind them.
On the day of play itself, the 80,000+ spectators in the stadium were 90%, at least, rooting for them and with a rather sympathetic referee, they were not expected not to get to the last four.
Their performance was also above average - sometimes even brilliant, so why the poor finish that led to their painful elimination?
It is a "why" that would be discussed for a long time to come, at least for the next four years when FIFA reconvenes the Brazil World Cup.
It would be an entirely new Black Stars, most likely under a different coach that would make it to Brazil to once more carry the national, and possibly the continental flag.
And that is precisely why the Stars' loss last Friday was so painful: An entire continent had staked its reputation and honour on this Ghanaian team.
The excitement had been building up all over the continent and Diaspora Africa in the days leading up to the encounter. Nowhere was this excitement more palpable than host country South Africa.
They so wanted Ghana to advance to the last four that that they threw away the neutrality of a host country and came out openly for Ghana.
On the roads, in the public places, in offices, in the media, it was Ghana all the way! On the morning of the encounter, SABC Television (South African Broadcasting Corporation) hosted Ghanaians on one of its prime morning live shows.
Ghanaian musicians including heavyweights like Gyedu Blay Ambulley, Amandzeba, Rex Omar, A.B. Crentsil with other musicians were on hand to perform patriotic Ghanaian songs.
During the same programme, a Nigerian journalist, wearing Ghanaian colours spoke eloquently on behalf of Ghana and the Black Stars. Presenters openly wore Ghana T shirts...
At the Soccer City Stadium itself, there was no masking the bias. All the African countries present were there for Ghana.
They wore Ghanaian colours and sang Ghanaian songs. They applauded when Ghana was doing well and booed when Ghana was wrong-footed in any way.
Indeed, on some occasions, the crowd would erupt into spontaneous hollering to destabilize the Uruguayans. They so wanted Ghana to progress to the next stage.
And when the referee awarded a penalty in the dying moments of the game to Ghana, the entire stadium erupted into one roar of excitement, almost as if the goal had been scored.
It was a date with destiny and ace penalty shooter Asamoah Gyan was called upon to do the honours for country and continent.
As the crowd waited to exhale into one major orgasmic paean of victory, Asamoah Gyan looked his country and continent in the eyes and missed... The stadium did exhale, but it was one of stunned disbelief...
The match ended in a penalty shootout, by which time Ghana and Africa could see honour and glory slipping away.
The scrappy performance of the Ghanaian shooters ensured that the Stars were well and truly out of contention; it was probably the most painful downer of the entire tournament - not even Brazil's ouster by the Netherlands just a few hours earlier was so upsetting.
A spectator, in his exasperation had this to say when the final Uruguayan kick kicked out Ghana: "Oh Africa, so we can never get it right".
It was a lament that was at once sad and at the same time self-immolating; and it should not be taken lightly because it encompasses so much that is Africa's underdevelopment.
Post match commentary was unequivocally on the question of what went wrong. To say that Africa felt let down would be the understatement of the decade!
Was it a simple matter of hard luck, or could it have been mediocrity, or simply the absence of professionalism or a combination of all three and more?
Should excuses be made to pass it off as "well, we did our best" and leave it there? It may sound like trying to engage in a blame game, but this is one blame game that has to be played to the final whistle... A day after the match, South Africans seemed more crestfallen than Ghanaians.
The ouster of the great Brazilians and Argentineans in the same round as Ghana may be some consolation, but hardly the basis for any celebration of achievement. See Editorial.
By Alhaji Abdul-Rahman Harruna Attah Reporting from Joburg Courtesy MTN