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Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Football League at World Cup 2010: Review

With the FIFA World Cup taking place in South Africa, here at Soccer AM/MW, we wanted to follow proceedings in our own way.

With our remit to cover life in the Football and Non Leagues, in that spirit, we decided to follow the fortunes of the players from the lower leagues competing in Africa.

We made note of the progress of the players individually - and their respective countries - as the tournament went on.

From 11 players representing seven different countries, who would be the last left standing?

Host nation South Africa, captained by Portsmouth's Aaron Mokoena, had a mixed tournament. A win, a draw, and a loss saw them become the first hosts to fail to progress past the group stage.

A memorable win over France - only their second ever win at a World Cup - was some consolation though.

Nigeria were another African side who featured Football League players. However, the Super Eagles failed to live up to their name.

Lars Lagerback's side earned just a single point from a 2-2 draw with South Korea as they crashed out at the first hurdle. On the way they had managed to throw away a 1-0 lead over Greece to lose 2-1.

Group C, which featured England, had two countries with Football League players. Algeria failed to score as they registered just one draw in a disappointing campaign.

However, they did manage to record their first ever clean sheet at the World Cup, as they held England to a 0-0 draw in an embarrassing game for the Three Lions.

The USA fared better though. A win over Algeria and draws with Slovenia and England helped them win their group with five points

They eventually went down in the last-16. However, it had been a valiant effort from Bob Bradley's team - who often had to come from behind in games.

Australia got their campaign off to a nightmare start as they lost 4-0 to Germany. The Socceroos appeared to be ready for an early flight home, but showed real guts in their next two group games.

Four points, including a fine 2-1 win over Serbia put them in contention for the last-16, but their poor goal difference eventually saw them edged out from making the knock out phase.

With three players, New Zealand put up a good fight in only their second World Cup.

A last gasp equaliser against Slovakia earned them their first ever World Cup point. They then pulled off a major shock as they held defending Champions Italy to a 1-1 draw.

Their final match ended in a 0-0 stalemate with Paraguay, which saw them join an unfortunate group of five other teams to have gone out of a World Cup despite remaining unbeaten.

However, for us, it was Ghana - and Portsmouth midfielder Kevin Prince-Boateng - who were the real stars.

They made it all the way through to the quarter finals. Here's the tale of how our man - and the Black Stars - made Africa proud.

Kevin Prince-Boateng

Prince-Boateng was the last remaining Football League player

We began with eleven, until we were left with just one. Ultimately, the man called Prince reigned over all the others, as he helped Ghana
through to the last eight of the World Cup.

The Portsmouth midfielder was a key member of his side as, in only their second ever appearance, Ghana equalled the best ever performance by an African side in the World Cup.

Ultimately, Ghana's dream of reaching the semi finals ended in controversy and bitter disappointment against Uruguay. However, they did their own people, their continent, and the 2010 World Cup proud.

Prince-Boateng was central to that run. Operating in the centre of midfield, he was given licence to get forward and create chances by coach Milovan Rajevac.

That positivity in midfield was rewarded in Ghana's opening match against Serbia. Their opponents tried to stifle the game - content with a point - but the Ghanaians persistence paid off when they won - and converted - a late penalty.

It was not Boateng's finest performance, but he played a greater role in their next match against Australia.

Although they only drew 1-1, his driving runs and eye for a pass made him the man most likely to find a way through a determined 10-man Aussie side.

Defeat in their third and final game, against Germany, saw them drop to second in the group - but still progress into the knockout stage.

Having achieved the same thing in 2006, Ghana's progression saw them equal Nigeria's record of twice making it into the last-16 of a World Cup.

They were pitted against the USA - who they had beaten in their group in 2006 - in Rustenburg in what turned out to be an historic night. Boateng himself got proceedings off to a perfect start.

A surging run from the half way line ended with him drilling a low shot past Tim Howard in the American goal to give Ghana the lead.

A second half leveller for the States pushed the game into extra time - where Asamoah Gyan scored the winner for Ghana.

Despite their failure on penalties in the quarter finals, Ghana's run still made them Africa's most successful ever country in the history of the World Cup - with one last-16 finish and one quarter final appearance.

Who knows how far Prince-Boateng and this young Ghana team will do in four years time in Brazil? One thing is for sure though - after his performances in South Africa, Portsmouth will do well to hold onto their crown Prince.

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