The kids in our neighborhood didn't play soccer when I was growing up. Back then, on Gallaher Street it was the big three - baseball, football, and basketball. Although some of us guys played on organized little league teams, and some played in grade school intramural basketball, most of our sports activities were of the sandlot and back yard variety. Soccer was a game, played in faraway countries, and most of our exposure to the game came from photos in social studies books.
My ignorance of the game is still tremendous, although it is probably the fastest growing sport among young people in America today. Although my boys never played, I have two grandsons who have, and our church even offers Upward Soccer as a very important part of our children's ministry. Although not a student of the game, I have attended a couple of High School and other competitive youth leagues to see some of our church kids play. I can't call myself a fan, but I certainly do recognize the tremendous skill and endurance that is required to play the game. My hat is off to anyone who can do what soccer players do. (I still have a little trouble, however, with a sport that requires you to hit something with your head - while not wearing a helmet).
The 2010 FIFA World Cup Games, being played in South Africa have caught the attention of the world during these past few weeks. It was a big deal here in the USA due to the fact that this edition of Team USA advanced further in World Cup competition than any team we have fielded in the past. While I have no favorites in the tournament, my interest has been piqued by the games of the quarter final rounds that are taking place in Johannesburg today.
I am pulling for the "Black Stars" of Ghana. Not because I really know that much about them, but what I have learned has made me a fan. (They are called the "Black Stars" after the large black star in the center of their flag)
The team from Ghana has not only caught the attention of the world by their tremendous athletic skill, but also through their winning attitude, strong team spirit, and Christian witness.
Of the six teams from African countries who qualified for the World Cup, Ghana is the only team still in the hunt. Ghana is the team who knocked the USA out of competition earlier in the tournament.
I find it interesting and thrilling to read what Jeff Bradley writes of Team Ghana in ESPN The Magazine:
"From their pregame -- and postgame, and halftime, and pre-training and post-training -- songs and prayers, to their disciplined adherence to [coach] Rajevac's rigid system that features a single striker, they are true believers that the whole can be greater than the sum of its individual pieces"
Once, while waiting for the Ghanaian team in their hotel lobby, Bradley heard singing from an upper floor. "I could feel the joy and passion," he recounted. Moments later, when he asked team members about it, the response was, "We love to sing together, dance together, pray together." ... The singing, dancing and praying, Ghanaian team captain John Mensah says, are no afterthought. "We are Christians and we all know how important God is," he told Germany's DPN news service. "We respect God and we pray every time before the game and after the game. We praise God for what He has done for us."
As a Christ Follower, myself, I am thrilled to read these words.
Even though the USA is out of the tourney, and I don't have a dog in the hunt, my sentimental favorite has got to be Ghana.
Go Black Stars!