Monday, July 03, 2006

World Cup Road trip

The first week of the World Cup I went on a one-week road trip with three Danish drunken football fanatics, on the dusty red roads of Western Africa. A true adventure, encompassing everything from wild treks, massive thuderstorms, corrupt policemen, murderous baboons, wild elephants, beautiful beaches and drunken Swedes. And in all this, World Cup football was the background music.

We left Accra on the second day of the World Cup on our way to Hohoe in the Western Region. We made it to Akosmobo for lunch, to watch England-Paraguay at the Continental, a posh four star hotel next to the Volta river. To our amazement, there was not TV there! No wonder there were no people either. A waitress quickly advised us to a small lodge next door, where we managed to watch it on a scratchy TV set. England won 1-0 on Gamarra´s own goal after a good free-kick by Bekcham. England had gotten started.

Late evening we arirved in Wli, near the Togolese border, and checked into the charming and beautiful Waterfall lodge. There was no TV, but a local boy took us into the village, where we peeked thorugh the door of a tiny house for Sweden’s surprising 0-0 tie with Trinidad-Tobago. It was a small black-and-white TV with horrible reception, and we felt like we were disturbing our otherwise very welcoming hosts.

We were informed that another lodge in the village had a TV and we hurried there: upcoming match was the all important Argentina-Ivory Coast! At the lodge we were told by a disappointed manager of the place that the TV was not working. This was ten minutes before the match, and urgency was pressing. Then my friend Henrik steeped in as a saving angel: “I’ll repair the TV!”. We had blind faith in his abilities, and rightly so; the TV was working five minutes later, and we saw an efficient Argentine side defeat the Ivorian debutants 2-1.

Wli is beautiful. People go to see the beautiful falls in the hilly green landscapes. We did the major hike to the upper falls – a hot but marvelous hike. We missed Netherlands 1-0 win over Serbia-Montenegro, but no problem. After a visit to a small farm in the afternoon, we were fresh and ready for a beer and Portugal-Angola. The game itself was a disappointment: I would have liked to see the Angolans give their former colonial masters a good beating. Instead, the Portuguese won 1-0 on an early Pauleta goal.

At this point, it had not been Africa’s World Cup. Ivory Coast and Angola had disappointed, and one could feel a lingering doubt in Ghanaians, ahead of their debut against Italy.

The day of the match we left Wli at 7 AM: we were to drive North via Yendi and Tamale, all the way to Mole. That was the plan, but being somehow in doubt about the condition of the road, we considered staying in Tamale. Our only aim was to find a place to watch the Ghana match.

The road was excellent (so much for lousy African roads...), and we were on very good time to Tamale. However, as often happens, a tire went flat… The change was a hot and dirty affair which lost us half an hour. Then we drove around Tamale searching for a replacement tire. This lost us almost an hour, at which point, we got increasingly worried about our arrival for the match. This meant a fast drive from Tamale to Mole. Carlos Saenz could hardly have done it better, as we made it to Mole, on the untarred Damongo road, in one and a half hour. We arrived at Mole hotel to hear that the Czech Republic had destroyed the USA 3-0, and had thus taken their first step as contenders to the title.
All of Ghana, including Mole hotel, was on the verge for the Ghana-Italy match. People were very excited, and nobody liked the Italians. As Danes, we were telling stories about “Snotti’s” spit in 2004, much to the enjoyment of the assembled crowd.

Ghana was naive however. The Italians did no more than what they always do: defend, let them come, and then score on counter-attack. This style has made Italy World Champions three times. The Ghanaians had not done their homework. In spite of a fine match, the Italians won 2-0. The mood was somber, although Ghana had played well. But with the Czech performance earlier, the next match would be hard indeed for Ghana.

In Mole National Park you can see many wild animals; mostly elephants. In the morning hike we saw herd upon herd of elephants. At the Mole hotel itself, baboons were annoyingly running near the rooms, just like many unnamed European football fans are doing in Germany…

The next day’s drive was a long affair: via Bole along the Ivory Coast border the road was horrible. It didn’t help much that we were caught by a biblical thunderstorm. The heavens opened like Ukraine’s defense… Spain-Ukraine was our next match: we stopped in Sunyani for lunch. Found a quite fancy hotel after the stressful drive, and had pizza while watching the Spanish have yet another excellent start to the World Cup. The Spanish youngsters destroyed the Ukranian debutants 4-0!

That evening, trying to avoid Kumasi, we got lost. And even more so, as we were trying to find the Ashanti holy lake, Bosumtwi, where we wanted to stay overnight. When we finally arrived, Germany-Poland had already started. The Germans were demanding a victory against a defensive and disappointing Polish side, that had started by losing 0-2 to Ecuador. Germanuy attacked with the tenacity that has always characterised German sides. In the 93rd minute, the dying seconds of the match, Oliver Neuville scored a deserved winner for the Germans. Deserved, because they were the better team – not because anyone outside Germany wanted them to win…

We continued to Cape Coast on a rainy afternoon. We wanted to visit the Castle, built by the British in 1665, it was the British colonial headquarter until 1850. However, we never visited the castle, due to the rains. Instead, we settled comfortably at the Castle restaurant next door to see Ecuador beat Coast Rica 3-0. Ecuador was thus qualified to the last-16 for the first time ever, and were displaying charming and entertaining football.

Late afternoon we arrived to Green Turtle Lodge, not far from Busua. England had just beaten Trinidad-Tobago 2-0 to go to the next round. Sweden was up next. We joined two Swedes to give our Danish support to the Scandinavians against Paraguay. The game was watched under palm trees on the beach, on a small solar-generator powered TV set. The Swedes were nervous. Their otherwise dangerous strikers Ibrahimovic and Larsson were not performing, and they were having a hard time against a defensive and plainly bad Paraguayan side. In the end, relief came to Sweden: A late header by Ljungberg gave them a needed 1-0 victory. The Swedes were delighted, and we celebrated till late.

The games the next day were watched on the beach, over games and drinks. I had eagerly been awaiting for Argentina-Serbia-Montenegro, but the match was not shown on Ghana TV. So I only heard later that Argentina had destroyed the Serbians 6-0. In spite of this, we watched the Netherlands against the Ivory Coast. We all supported the Ivorians, except for a quiet Dutch couple. Although the Ivorians played well, the Dutch were efficient and cold. It wasn’t deserved, but they won 2-1. In the evening, Mexico and Angola tied 0-0. The Angolans got their first point ever.

June 17th was the day of Ghana-Czech Republic. Could it be that the Ghanaians would defeat the amazing Czechs? It started good for Ghana, but bad for all of us at Green Turtle Lodge: the generator was broken… All were passionately helping to repair, or find an alternative solution. In the end, it was decided to connect the TV to the central solar generator, and then not have light in the evening. No matter what, we missed Ghana’s early opening goal. But we did not miss the excellent Ghanaian display. The Czechs were a shadow of themselves, while the Ghanaians were at their best. We were all delighted for Ghana’s 2-0 victory, although if anything, it was too small: it was obvious that to compete at this level, Ghana needed to be more efficient.

We would all have supported the USA against Italy, but couldn’t watch the match because of the generator. However, it ended 1-1, and all was up to Ghana itself before the last match of the group. But Ghana was a party and we were here!

The next day, I had to return to Accra after visiting the interesting Elmina Castle, and that was the end of the road trip. However, it was not the end of the World Cup, which I have continued to follow eagerly, although under more normal circumstances…

Watching football at Green Turtle

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this account of your trip. I only wish I could have been in Ghana during this very impressive run in the World Cup. Ayeeko to the Black Stars and Ghana!