SA rallies behind Ghana

Johannesburg - South Africans adopted Ghana's team as their own Friday for their Soccer World Cup quarter-final match, with street vendors hawking the Black Stars' flag and government officials rallying fans.

South Africa's Bafana Bafana crashed out in the group stages, but with Ghana only the third African team ever to reach the quarter-finals, they have been adopted as "BaGhana" and cheered as the home side.

"Go BaGhana!" read The Citizen newspaper's front page. "Continent unites behind Black Stars, Africa's last World Cup hope," it said.

"It's time for BaGhana" said The Star newspaper, above a picture of a woman in full body paint in the red, yellow and green of Ghana's flag.

The Times proclaimed "We Ghana win it".

"Almost a billion Africans are standing behind Ghana's Black Stars -- the continent's last hope of keeping the World Cup on home soil," it said.

Street vendors in Johannesburg, where the Black Stars play Uruguay, largely swapped out their Bafana kit for scarves, beanies and flags in Ghana's colours.

Provincial premier Nomvula Mokonyane headed to a recreation centre in Johannesburg's Yeoville neighbourhood, where many West African immigrants live, to rally local fans for the match.

The ruling African National Congress has embraced Ghana, praising the team for "salvaging the image of the continent in this tournament".

South Africa's World Cup organisers abandon any pretense of neutrality when it comes to the team.

"By the kind of excitement that Ghana has generated throughout the continent, we want to wish them well tonight and we hope the whole continent as well as the whole world to support them to be the first African team to win the World Cup," said Rich Mkhondo, spokesman for the local organising committee.

For local fans, Ghana's match has largely overshadowed powerhouse Brazil's clash with the Netherlands on Friday in southern Port Elizabeth, in the first of two days of quarter finals.

Despite the shooting of an American backpacker in an armed robbery on Wednesday, South Africa has largely overcome fears about its high crime rate and fledgling public transportation system, pulling off the World Cup without major incident.

FIFA officials have showered praised on the country, despite initial hurdles like a transportation logjam that saw many fans arriving at the last minute for the opening match on June 11.

"We will break records in many areas here in South Africa in terms of tickets sales, in terms of ratings," FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke said on local radio early Friday.

With about 2.9 million tickets sold, this is the best-attended World Cup since the tournament was held in the United States in 1994, according to FIFA.

"In terms of even international visitors, we are already at 500 000 when a lot of people said we will only have 250 000 visitors," he said.

"Even with Bafana Bafana out, the vibe is still there. We are very pleased with what we have done because it is exactly what we have been working on, since so many years."

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