The Atlantic Ocean Local Derby

Move over, Putin -- America’s real rival is Ghana.

Janek Skarzynski / AFP / Getty Images
Janek Skarzynski / AFP / Getty Images

Here we go again. The United States versus Ghana. It’s the rivalry you never saw coming, but which the Law of Universal Gravitation Toward Drama in Sports made inevitable, and the luck of the draw has now made official.

One, a first-world geopolitical powerhouse with a middling-to-occasionally-pretty-darn-good World Cup soccer team. The other, the 82nd-largest country, with one-twelfth the population of the United States and a progressive deterioration of public services that somehow still manages, every four years, to cobble together … a middling-to-occasionally-pretty-darn-good World Cup soccer team.

It’s the clash of the not-so-titans. On Monday evening, they play each other. Only one can win.

They could tie, but they won’t. At least, they haven’t. In the last two tournaments, Team USA has been sent packing at the hands — or rather, the feet — of Ghana’s Black Stars. In 2006, the United States was eliminated with a 2-1 defeat to Ghana in the last group match, after a player named Pimpong won a penalty by bouncing like the almost-eponymous ball off the brick wall known as Oguchi Onyewu. Four years later, both teams made it to the round of 16, where, once again, they collided and where, once again, the United States lost. (Once again, by a score of 2-1.)

So if we’re to subscribe to the notion that the United States has a slim chance of getting out of the Group of Death — "USA!? USA!? USA!?" — at least fans of the American squad, or just plain, old Americans, can look forward to the prospect of settling one score before heading home.

Because it’s time for payback, right?

It’s time for Americans to right the global pecking (and kicking) order, and — as these metaphors always go — for all that off-field geopolitics to play out on the pitch. We’re No. 1! Right?!

Maybe not.

It’s not like Ghana owes America anything. It’s on record as loving America. In a 2013 BBC poll, 82 percent of Ghanaians said they viewed U.S. influence in their country positively, by far the highest rating for any African country. Perhaps that’s because the United States has often, and for a long time, had Ghana’s back; it was as the destination for the first Peace Corps volunteers the United States ever deployed. Former president Jimmy Carter has stopped by more than once to help them farm. And the United States has forgiven Ghana’s debt to the tune of over $100 million.

To the degree that it can, Ghana tries to repay the favor. Ghana gave America Freddy Adu. (Hey, he’s still only 25.)

Oh sure, there’s been drama. In the mid-1980s, a relative of Ghana’s then-president Jerry Rawlings was arrested by the United States for espionage and charged as a spy; he was released in exchange for CIA agents held in Accra. A year later, a ship filled with American veterans of the Vietnam War was seized on its way to foment a coup in Ghana. And when Libyan nationals bombed the Detroit-bound Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, Ghana backed Libya’s insistence that their trial not be held in the United States. Awkward.

And don’t get me started the International Cocoa Agreement. (Mainly because I don’t understand it. And the game’s on soon.)

In the end, Ghana is our neighbor. Yeah, that’s right, you heard me. Ghana may be sub-Saharan, but both the United States and Ghana are located in the same corner of the world — northern and western hemispheres — albeit the far corners of that corner, and they abut the same ocean. (Okay, part of Ghana flirts with the eastern hemisphere when we’re not looking.) In fact, when Sarah Palin is in Washington, she can see Accra from the window of her apartment. So perhaps it’s inevitable that we act like neighbors: neighborly, except when we’re not.

Friendly. Dramatic. Predictable. That’s USA vs. Ghana — the rivalry you never saw coming, with the drama you can’t deny. And predictably, it will end with Ghana winning, 2-1.

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