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Bringing it all together

July 3, 2010
Hill By Jemele Hill
ESPN.com
(Archive)

JOHANNESBURG -- I heard them all -- the prayers, curses, gasps and shrieks.

I saw it all too -- the shaking fists, the clasped hands and, finally, the blank faces.

Ghana's heart -- correction: Africa's heart -- understandably was cracked in the immediate aftermath of its epic loss to Uruguay in the World Cup quarterfinals, but there's something beautiful about this heartbreak.

It was one heart breaking, not just Ghanaian hearts.

The sports part of this will be discussed and debated first, but be aware that something far more significant happened during Ghana's marvelous World Cup run, which, when it ended, meant there were no more African nations represented in this grand tournament.

Uruguay beat Ghana 4-2 on penalty kicks -- which came after star Asamoah Gyan's penalty kick hit the crossbar in the final play of extra time. It was undoubtedly a devastating, deplorable way to lose. Gyan's kick could have been the goal of a lifetime, of a career, but yes, for now some will liken it to Patrick Ewing blowing that critical layup against the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference finals. It is Ghana's Steve Bartman moment.

But put that aside for a moment because the underlying story here isn't what Ghana didn't do. It's what it did do that matters, beyond giving the World Cup its finest game of the tournament.

A nation once considered the most fractured in the world came together, celebrating the victories and today, commiserating over the defeat.

Together. In a nation that for hundreds of years was known for conflicts, differences and remaining as far apart socially and economically as possible.

During Ghana's run, South Africa changed. It was no longer a nation that belonged only to Bafana Bafana, the nickname of the South African national team.

It became BaGhana BaGhana.

It became GhanaBafana.

And this new, hybrid sports fan group was made up of all different colors. Whites. Blacks. Browns.

"I wish we could unite people like this in the United States, forget our petty differences," said Garrett Suffle, who described himself as the "only Mexican from Texas who considers himself Dutch."

Suffle's friend, Sarah Taborga, who like Suffle lives in Fremont, Calif., held up their sign, which read: The Black Star Shines Brightest.

Although a by-product of the early departures of the Nigerian, Cameroonian and South African national teams in the World Cup, the love that developed for Ghana wasn't just superficial.

If so, then this kind of deep, abiding bandwagon support needs to exist everywhere. Yusef Omar, a South African, wore the suit he got married in to Friday night's match. He even had a patch of Ghana's flag sewn into the shoulder, and had a scarf with the country's colors sewn onto his hat.

"I'm from Africa. I can't jump continents," Omar said, as if wearing his wedding suit to a soccer match to show support for a team he hadn't been rooting for a few weeks ago was the most normal thing in the world.

Ghana's ouster means the World Cup lost a fantastic story, but something of bigger importance was gained.

Jemele Hill can be reached at jemeleespn@gmail.com.