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Israeli flag incident may cost Ghana team a few Arab fans

Posted by vmsalama on June 22, 2006

By Vivian Salama, Special for USA TODAY

click here to see original link

CAIRO — When Ghana plays the USA today in the World Cup, the African team will have fewer fans on its side than usual. Arab soccer fans are expressing outrage after a player on Ghana’s national team triumphantly waved an Israeli flag to celebrate a goal last week.

The Ghana Football Association has issued an apology after defender John Pantsil, who plays for Israel’s Hapoel club, pulled an Israeli flag from his sock and began waving it in front of cameras. It cited the player’s “naiveté” about the political implications of his display.

Ghana’s government formally apologized Wednesday to the Arab League, saying Pantsil’s actions did not reflect official support of Israel and that Ghana was neutral. Ghana is about 60% Christian and 16% Muslim.

Pantsil has not been reprimanded, and he defends his actions, saying he just wanted to thank Israeli soccer fans for their support. Israeli newspapers, meanwhile, argued Wednesday that his gesture served as a testament to Pontsil’s allegiance to what the Israeli census estimates to be the less than 100 Ghanaian nationals who call the Jewish state home.

The move stunned some Egyptian soccer fans, the majority of whom were backing the team as it holds Africa’s one chance at advancing. After calling the goal, legendary Egyptian sports announcer and former footballer Mimi El-Sherbini paused, then said, on the air, “What are you doing, man?”

While the move resonated poorly with die-hard Arab soccer fans, most of them say they would rather root for Ghana than for the USA.

“Arabs and Muslims will still support Ghana over the United States,” says Ibrahim El-Houdaiby, 22, an Egyptian soccer fan. “All that Ghana did was raise a flag in support of Israel, but what America did was kill hundreds of thousands of civilians in Iraq and Palestine. At least the Ghanaians apologized.”

Voicing support:

Ghana’s African rivals are counting on the Black Stars to carry the mantle into the second round for the continent’s other World Cup newcomers. Ivory Coast striker Didier Drogba has urged Ghana captain Stephen Appiah to beat the USA. Appiah said he also has heard from Togo players Emmanuel Adebayor and Mohamed Kader.

“I was very happy when I heard such a thing from my friends,” Appiah said. “We are determined to win. I think we can make it.”


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