On July 19, 2019 the two best national soccer teams in Africa will go head-to-head in Egypt’s Cairo International Stadium in the final match in the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon). Last week, on July 8, I got to see firsthand the importance of soccer to the Ghanaians I work with and in the surrounding community when Ghana’s national team faced off against Tunisia to determine who would make it into the quarterfinals.
In the morning of July 8, I was dropped off at Net2 TV station for my first day as an intern there – and my first day ever working in broadcast journalism. My responsibilities for most of the first day were “fraternize.” Part of the reason for the laxness of my instructions that day were to familiarize me with the station and my colleagues, but I suspect another reason was that everyone at the station was busy preparing to publicly stream the match that night.
During Afcon, Net2 streams all Ghana matches on an enormous screen in the parking lot of the studio. Workers set up rows of chairs and a table with microphones whose wires run all the way back into the studio to broadcast live commentary across the nation. Because the screen was already set up, the preceding match, Mali v. Cote d’Ivoire, aired as people filtered in from the street.
As the 7 P.M. kickoff time drew nearer, the crowd grew, and the parking lot was packed. Street vendors abandoned their intersections and school children, still in uniform, sat cross-legged in the front of the mass.
After kickoff, I moved about the crowd taking photos and trying to capture reactions among the fans. I’ve never been much of a sports person, but the energy in the crowd was so electric that I couldn’t help but cheer along. Toward the end of the 90-minute match, with Tunisia ahead 1-0, the situation looked dire. I distinctly remember one of the panel of commentators proclaiming, “It’s going to take a miracle to save Ghana now.” Minutes later, Ghana scored.
With the match tied at the end of normal play, there was a brief interlude followed by overtime. Thirty minutes later no one had scored, and the match went to a penalty shootout.
I don’t know how familiar everyone is with soccer, but it seems to me a penalty shootout at the end of a match is an extremely dramatic way to end things. The two teams alternate sending one player out. That player faces down the other team’s keeper directly and tries to boot a ball into the goal. Both the kicker and keeper have to try to read micro signs from the other to determine where their adversary anticipates the ball to go. Once each team has had five attempts, the team whose ball found the back of the net most often wins. It was a tense few minutes and the crowd was emotional.
Ghana – 4
Tunisia – 5
The crowd dispersed quickly, grumbling about refs, missed opportunities by the players, a bad coach or anything else that could explain their loss.