By Charles Braddix
JOHANNESBURG (BP) – A team that prays together plays well together, or so it seems for Ghana’s national soccer team, the Black Stars, who qualified for the World Cup quarter-finals.
The Black Stars get their name from the country’s flag, which features a black star in its center amid three horizontal stripes – red, yellow and green.
Of six African nations who qualified for the World Cup, Ghana is the only one still in the competition.
“What I’ve noticed, more than anything, about the Black Stars, is they are a team in every sense of the word,” said writer Jeff Bradley in an article for ESPN The Magazine.
“From their pregame – and postgame, and halftime, and pre-training and post-training – songs and prayers, to their disciplined adherence to [coach] Rajevac’s rigid system that features a single striker, they are true believers that the whole can be greater than the sum of its individual pieces,” Bradley said.
Once, while waiting for the Ghanaian team in their hotel lobby, Bradley heard singing from an upper floor. “I could feel the joy and passion,” he said. Moments later, when he asked team members about it, the response was, “We love to sing together, dance together, pray together.”
According to team captain John Mensah, the singing, dancing and praying are no afterthought. He told German news service DPN: “We are Christians and we all know how important God is. We respect God and we pray every time before the game and after the game. We praise God for what he has done for us.”
The Methodist church in Ghana honored Mensah after his 2006 World Cup appearance in Germany because of his Christian testimony during the games. A church spokesman at the time said Mensah was “an embodiment of what God has decreed for youth.”
In a published statement late last year, Mensah said he seeks God for all big decisions and is adamant that “the Almighty is in control.” He always turns to God for advice, he said.
Before each of Ghana’s 2010 World Cup matches so far, singing could be heard from the Ghanaian team as they left their dressing room and prepared to enter the field. In a sense, this is an audible and visible sign of how they yearn for a victory for Ghana and Africa.
Ghana is only the third African nation in World Cup history to reach the quarter-finals. Cameroon did it in 1990 and Senegal in 2002. And this is the first World Cup to be held on African soil.
For the Black Stars, who are in the World Cup for only the second time, their success in the competition is not only shared back home in Ghana, but by the entire African continent. The team is eager, ready and willing to represent the continent in this global competition that comes only once every four years.
“We are extra motivated to go all out because we are not only representing Ghana. We know we are carrying the hope and aspirations of the African continent,” Black Stars defender Lee Addy told reporters at a press conference.
“Many expected the African teams to do well in the continent’s first-ever World Cup, but unfortunately five of the teams have been knocked out, leaving Ghana alone,” Addy said. “We want to keep the flag of Ghana and Africa high.”
Ghanaian fan Bernard Kholé is optimistic. “We know we are hosting the World Cup, and this is first time in doing so,” he told Baptist Press. “Indeed this is going to be the first time an African country is going to lift up the World Cup. There is no doubt about that.”
In separate interviews, Cameroonian national team players Alex Song and Samuel Eto’o both said, “Everybody must pray for Ghana.” Cameroon was knocked out of the World Cup early in the competition.
The Black Stars face Uruguay in the quarter-finals on Friday, July 2, in Johannesburg. They defeated the United States 2-1 in the round of 16.
Charles Braddix is a writer for the International Mission Board on assignment in South Africa covering the events, matches and ministries surrounding the World Cup.