MLSsoccer.com's "Under African Skies" series is a look at what the first World Cup held on the African continent means to Major League Soccer's African players. Today we feature Patrick Nyarko of the Chicago Fire, who was hails from Ghana.
BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. — Patrick Nyarko did not see this day coming. Growing up playing soccer on the streets of Kumasi in Ghana, the Fire’s 24-year-old winger simply could not envision a World Cup coming to African soil.
“Absolutely not,” Nyarko said when asked if he thought FIFA would host a World Cup in his home continent. “At least not anytime soon.”
But here we are on the eve of the first African World Cup. Final preparations are being made in South Africa for the biggest sporting event in the world. Concerns over security have been voiced, complaints about the controversial new ball have been aired, and the readiness of the host country’s team has been brought into question. But none of that matters to Nyarko who, after visiting South Africa last December on a Generation Adidas trip, is convinced that this summer’s cup will be one of the best ever.
“I was still kind of skeptical when South Africa won the bid to host it, but then last December I went over there and I was absolutely shocked where they were,” Nyarko said. “South Africa is developed and I absolutely think they are ready to host this thing and make it big. The people have embraced it.
“It’s unbelievable how people are passionate about the World Cup coming to South Africa and all the preparations they’re making towards it. This was kind of like a shock for me personally, the World Cup to go to Africa at this present time, but I think it’s worth it, and it's going to be one of the best ever.”
Unlike many African MLS players, the Ghanaian Nyarko actually has a rooting interest in this year’s World Cup – and he, along with the rest of his home country, is excited.
“It’s unimaginable,” Nyarko said of the atmosphere in Ghana for national team matches. “It’s one of those things where, like, 95 percent of houses are going to be packed just with people watching the World Cup.
“I love these atmospheres. When I was there – even when Ghana hadn’t made it to the World Cup – even the African Nations Cup, even a friendly game, it’s just unbelievable how the people react to it… It’s an unbelievable scene."
Ghana, who took out the U.S. in 2006 by defeating the Americans in the third and final game of the group stage, were drawn into the tough Group D, where they will go up against Germany, Serbia and Australia. Adding to the Black Stars’ difficulty is the fact that their best player, Chelsea midfielder Michael Essien, couldn’t recover from a knee injury suffered in January’s African Cup of Nations in time to return for this summer’s tournament.
But despite all of that, the ever-hopeful Nyarko still believes that his team will advance into the tournament’s knockout rounds.
“My confidence has dropped a little bit after Essien was [ruled] out,” Nyarko said. “But anything can happen. I have faith in those guys going and I have faith in the coach and I think we’re going to get out of the first round. It’s not an easy group, not an easy thing to say, not an easy thing to do, but I have confidence we’re going to get out in the first round and depending on the draw we get in the second round we’ll pick up from there.”
But despite his obvious love for his national team – which he one day hopes to play for – Nyarko is turning to South America for his pick to win it all.
“Argentina,” Nyarko said when asked who he think will be crowned champion. “I know Maradona is crazy, I think I’m the only one on my team that thinks Argentina is going to win, but I think [Argentine forward Lionel] Messi is a player that can win a game by himself any day. Argentina is praying he just catches fire for six games.”