Relentless effort of both sides a great advert for football

Relentless effort of both sides a great advert for football
Germany forward Thomas Mueller and Ghana defender John Boye in pain after colliding during their Group G game in Fortaleza. The pulsating 2-2 draw was a fair result as neither side deserved to lose.

Fun and hell. In a newspaper, it is how German coach Joachim Loew describes the match and at the finish you can feel it.

One man in German white, bleeding. One man in Ghanaian red, in agony.

Both on the ground. Exhausted. Everything given. No winner found, yet a game graced. This is not a classic, only classic football.

No posturing, no controversy, no referee blaming. No flopping in the penalty area like a swooning debutant.

I remember Melbourne friends, born to the rough-hewn game that is Australian Rules footy, mocking the weak-kneed diving of the football player.

But this match is unflinching, played by rugged men not limp actors. "It was," said Sami Khedira, "a fight for 90 minutes."

Men fell and rivals held out a hand. Come, let's start again. One man somersaulted after a goal, another team danced after theirs.

This is football not undermined but glorified.

The match is in three parts. The first: 45 minutes of warm- up. The second: four goals in 20 dazzling minutes.

This match, on paper not grass, is also unequal: Germany own three Cups, Ghana have been at only three Cups. Yet every nation, if you look, has a rich history.

In 1882, a goalkeeper comes to England, who is described by the website Football Unites, Racism Divides as "the world's first black professional footballer".

His name is Arthur Wharton and he was born in Accra, Ghana. It is written that Wharton "was never fully accepted and died a forgotten man" but it will be hard to erase Ghana against Germany. Spirit always leaves a mark in the memory.

When Germany score, 51st minute, a scoreboard changes and also men.

It unchains them and the match awakens into a boxing bout: Each pass like a jab, each move like a flurry of punches.

In Ian Hawkey's book, Feet Of The Chameleon, he writes that Wharton "would hang from the crossbar and make saves with his feet".

These Ghanaians are equally entertaining, but it is not enough.

Amid ambition and a ticking clock - Ghana's time in the Cup is running out - it's almost counter-intuitive to ask teams to wait, yet as Michael Jordan, albeit in an ad, will once say: "I have something more important than courage, I have patience."

You build moves, you stay faithful to idea, you believe, and Ghana do.

They score, 1-1, then again, 2-1. Finally, this African team find their footballing voice at this Cup.

Eight minutes later, Germany equalise. It's 2-2. On this day, fun and hell walk together.

Spain's coach Vicente del Bosque spoke of a "bravery" his team lacked. But not these teams and in their final minutes comes the match's third part: the courage part.

The point where training, hydration, diet ends and the intangible of will takes over. At the 2004 Olympics, an Australian rower, in the women's eight, stops rowing. She quits. We forget sometimes how hard it is to commit to keep pushing for a team. These men remind us. In the last minutes, Kwadwo Asamoah lunges for a perfect tackle, a raid is made on Germany, Germany respond, the Ghanaians run at them.

All relentless, all spent, yet not done. Often we speak of respect, from rivals, and it is earned not by winning but by days like this.

By effort. It will be said no one deserved to lose, but this is far more profound: It is everyone refusing to lose.

In football boardrooms, paunchy men in suits are still arguing bribes, but on the field, men in shorts, are saving this game.

By match's end, both teams had reportedly run over 200km together in the heat. In four days, for them, it starts again.

Running, for the fun of football, into hell.


This article was first published on JUNE 23, 2014.
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