The fate of World Cup draws has fostered an unlikely rivalry between Ghana and the United States. In 2006, Ghana dispatched the U.S. in Germany. Four years later, in South Africa, the Black Stars sunk American hearts in the first knockout round, courtesy of an extra-time goal from Asamoah Gyan. Passion runs so deep for Ghana’s national team that, prior to their latest bout with the U.S., the government in Accra rationed electricity carefully so the country’s power grids could handle the nation-wide viewing. In the Bronx, home to about 16,000 Ghanaians, according to the census data, a strong contingent of die-hard Black Star supporters flooded Papaye Restaurant, an unassuming Ghanaian eatery on the corner of Grand Concourse Road and 183rd Street.
Confidence was high within the packed crowd. “We have the whim, the power, the stamina,” said Kwadwo Appiah, who watched both previous encounters against the U.S. at Papaye.
Papaye’s manager, Kwame Bonsu, however, remained pragmatic. “We’re just targeting qualification from the group, and we’ll take it from there,” he said.
Many, like Kingsley Adarkwah, a tech specialist who moved to New York in 2007, consider the venue fortuitous when Ghana faces the U.S. “The place is good luck – absolutely,” he said. Draped in his national colors with a souvenir Ghanaian flag in each hand, he explained that Papaye’s traditional food and communal nature have made it a hub for his community.
But Papaye’s luck dissipated within forty seconds of the kick-off as Clint Dempsey slotted inside of the far-post, sealing the fifth fastest goal in World Cup history. That silenced all but one fan–an American serviceman of Ghanaian birth. “I don’t leave my country behind,” said U.S. Army Specialist Donkor Carven (in picture below), who immigrated to the U.S. at age five, to light-hearted jeers and whistling.
The largest roar of the evening thus far came when Kevin Prince Boateng, a German-born Ghanaian attacking midfielder, entered the fray. Boateng could have chosen to play for Germany like his brother, Jerome, but sided with Ghana, to the continued adoration of his countrymen.
With expectation rising, a slick piece of build-up and combination play put Ghana on level terms in the 82nd minute. Papaye erupted. Supporters took their glee to the streets. Carven, at this point, literally had egg on his face, as Ghanaian supporters playfully cracked an egg on his head.
But only four minutes later, John Brooks converted a set-piece, sealing a 2-1 victory for the U.S. Ghana now require at least one victory over a rampant Germany or an equally-desperate Portugal to advance from what has largely been billed as the “Group of Death.”
“There’s no hope,” Appiah said. “We’re not going to get a result against Germany.”
But some disagree, and remain upbeat. “There’s still room for improvement,” said Isaac Sam, a nine-year New York resident. “We can still make it.”
* Images by Joao Inada, a recent graduate of Columbia Journalism School with a focus on multimedia storytelling.