Striking victory: the career of Ghanaian footballer Asamoah Gyan
International football is where the Ghanaian captain shines most, worshipped by the supporters
“The last kick of the game,” announced the English commentator. It was just one kick, one moment that could have been etched in African football history forever.
Ghanian striker Asamoah Gyan’s missed penalty at the last World Cup rocked millions - and the pan-African support, and the striker himself, was inconsolable. Had it not been for Luis Suarez’s intentional handball on the goal-line to save his side in the Quarter-Finals, Ghana were on course for the last-four.
It was a stain on what proved to be an outstanding season for Gyan. Since then, he’s gone on to greater things, even while not playing in any of Europe’s top divisions. The forward left Sunderland in the English Premier League in September 2011 to join al-Ain FC where he has won two UAE Pro League titles and the UAE Super Cup.
But for those who decide to play football in the Middle East, it's regarded as being a step-down in quality to that of the Premier League - being commonly associated with players in their twilight years.
“There are always a lot of advantages and disadvantages if you play in Europe,” former Ghanian international player Otto Addo told Al Arabiya News.
“Every player has to decide on his own, and the most important thing is that he feels well and is happy.”
Although Gyan is happy in the United Arab Emirates. He isn't actively hunting down a return to Europe, having played in England, France and Italy.
International football is where the Ghanaian captain shines most, worshipped by the supporters who dress themselves in Black Stars symbols, flags and banners for national team games.
“He's one of our big stars,” Addo said. “People love him and he’s a striker that can score at any point in the match. “
“There are so many great strikers in African football: Cameroon has Eto'o and Ivory Coast have Drogba, but we are pleased to have Gyan.”
However, Gyan is flanked by some impressive, young prospects plying their trade in European football.
Kwadwo Asamoah, for instance, has propelled himself into Juventus’s side, holding his own in the Italian top-flight. Meanwhile, Jordan and Andre Ayew of Marseille in France only add to the depth of free-attacking quality in the squad.
However, Gyan possesses one thing many others don't have. The 28-year-old has 78 international appearances under his belt, while this summer could be historic time for both him and Ghanaian football.
The striker is one goal short of becoming the highest-scoring African player at a World Cup and the highest-scoring Ghanaian for the national team. Chances would appear high that he’ll perform comfortably in Brazil.
Going one step further
Gyan, and team-mates - Kevin-Prince Boateng, Michael Essien and Sulley Muntari - have one gap on their respective CVs - neither has been able to win the footballing world's top prize. Indeed, no African has yet lifted the World Cup above his shoulders.
This time around, the chasing pack is limited in really outstanding contenders, whilst Brazil holds the favourites tag as the host nation. In 2010, that moment of madness in the stoppage time: the header, the ball slowly edging towards goal and Suarez's handball has hung over the Ghanaians like a merciless black cloud.
Erasing the disappointment is one thing, but the confidence of Ghanaians is mixed. Addo, now coaching at German club Hamburg, is not counting his chickens before the tournament kick-off.
Addo continued: “It’s a long time ago, but people are thinking forward.”
“‘We are strong, especially at the front. But it's a very hard for us in the group stages. I think the USA match is the crucial one for us, it'll be much easier to play against Germany and Portugal, if we win.”
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