Zwei Seelen wohnen, ach! in meiner Brust — J. W. von Goethe
When I began to assemble a reporting team of African-American students to cover the FIFA World Cup in South Africa, I didn’t quite anticipate a moment like Saturday night, a crossroads moment that would challenge everyone’s sense of who they are.
(Sorry about the quote from Goethe’s “Faust,” but it seems appropriate: “Two souls dwell, alas, within my breast.”)
Surely coming to South Africa could not turn a bunch of Tallahassee-trained journalism students into fans of the Ghana Black Stars. Andre Ayew? Kevin Prince Boateng? Asamoah Gyan? No household names here, no Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, D-Wade or Shaq. And the U.S. team had a few things going for it, too. Landon Donovan’s last-minute heroics, a sense of destiny, even a strong African-American presence with players like Tim Howard, Jozy Altidore, Maurice Edu, Robbie Findley and Oguchi “Gooch” Onyewu (several of the young women even seem to have crushes on him).
So why would the cheers, sighs, gasps, oohs and aahs coming from my crew during the U.S.-Ghana match betray this ambivalence? Well, not even so much two Faustian souls. Actually, it was pretty clear to me that the African was trumping the American in the majority of our contingent.
Should I be surprised? I had openly betrayed the same ambivalence, but then I come from an old school ‘60s background with long interest in Africa, and after all, this was to be “the” African World Cup, the first time the world’s top team sporting event would take place on this continent. But the students come from another place, I thought, and for all of the interest they have shown in Africa, this has not been a trip full of romantic reflections on the Motherland.
And Ghana is thousands of miles from South Africa. Yet the idea of an African World Cup experience really has penetrated deeply here, and it has caught on to an amazing degree with my young African-American traveling companions.
On the soccer side of the equation, I prepared them a bit, relating how I covered the 1994 Nigerian Super Eagles and wrote one of those “African soccer is on the rise” articles for The Washington Post. I talked about Roger Milla and the 1990 Cameroon team that embarrassed Colombia then nearly upset mighty England. I pointed to recent successes of teams from Senegal and Ivory Coast, and reminded everyone that it was Ghana that stopped the U.S. team in its tracks four years ago in Germany.
So this encounter was an inevitable convergence of two trains barreling toward a switching point with only one able to stay on track to the quarterfinals station.
I suppose it became tougher to root against Ghana when all of the other five African teams here crashed out in the first round. Then as luck would have it, that path of convergence loomed, a tantalizing test of loyalty for our little group.
The Ghanaians also are benefiting from the remarkable hospitality the South Africans have shown everybody here. The South Africans identify with them, and everybody — well, everybody in my crew — identifies with the South Africans.
Pass it on. Ghana plays Uruguay here in Joburg Friday for a trip to the semis.
If home field advantage means anything, Uruguay is toast.