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SOCCER: Mountain View player is gaga for Ghana

For many U.S. residents, the World Cup viewing experience won’t be limited to pulling for the national team.

Some, in fact, aren’t ashamed to say their rooting interests involve a different country altogether.

Mountain View senior soccer player Paul Appiah is a native of the African country Ghana, and he plans to have a good time with his American friends Monday watching The Black Stars take on the United States. The opening match will be critical to either team advancing out of play in Group G, which has been dubbed “The Group of Death” because it includes championship hopefuls Germany and Portugal.

“Of course they’re rooting for the U.S., and I’m rooting for Ghana, so it’s going to be really fun because I’m trying to rub it in when we win,” Appiah said with a laugh.


U.S. vs. GHANA

WHEN: Monday, 6 p.m.

WHERE: Natal, Brazil|TV: ESPN

Fernando Ramos, Appiah’s coach with the Wildcats, also has a dilemma. As a dual citizen of Portugal and the U.S., Ramos wants both to advance out of group play, but when the two meet on June 22, he will pull for the team he has followed religiously his entire life.

“I was raised on Portuguese soccer. I bleed it,” Ramos said. “I mean, my dad raised me a Sporting Lisbon fan. It’s funny, our logo at Mountain View, that patch, I stole it from Sporting Lisbon from Portugal. It’s the exact patch, except I switched it.

“I base everything on Portuguese soccer. When I coach, my philosophy is to play like Portugal. I wrote on Facebook the other day, ‘I’m 80 percent Portuguese, 20 percent American for the World Cup,’ and I caught a little grief for it. I’m all in with Portuguese soccer.”

Appiah, who is from the Ashanti Region in southern Ghana, is already having some good-natured fun with his American friends. He is quick to point out that Ghana has eliminated the United States from the last two World Cups.

A third straight loss Monday would be a major blow with games against Portugal and Germany looming.

“I think it’s going to be a really good game,” Appiah said. “Of course, the U.S. doesn’t want to lose to Ghana three times in a row. I’m actually rooting really hard for that. I know Ghana can do it again because the talent coming back this year is a little stronger than last year.”

Ramos has suggested a friendly wager for when Portugal and Ghana play June 26, perhaps a jersey exchange. If Ramos’ team wins, Appiah will have to wear a Portugal jersey or T-shirt afterward. If Ghana wins, Ramos must rep The Black Stars.

“[Ramos] would be crying on the inside wearing the Ghana shirt, so I would love to do that just to make him wear the Ghana shirt,” Appiah said.

“For the World Cup, I wouldn’t like it. Of course you always have to root for your country, so wearing that would be a little bit disgraceful for me. You pretty much have to believe your country can do it, but sometimes it’s hard. I think Portugal is a beautiful team, but I would definitely bet on that, that Ghana would beat Portugal. You never know. The U.S. could probably beat Portugal too.”

Ramos and Appiah have been having fun talking back and forth since the groups were announced.

Said Appiah: “When we first saw the bracket, we were like, ‘Uh oh, this is going to be a tough match,’ and I was like, ‘Well, we have to stop [Portugal star forward Cristiano] Ronaldo.’ Ramos and Ronaldo are like BFFs now. So I told him if we can stop Ronaldo, I think we can get the job done.”

Ramos doesn’t hide his affinity for Portugal. Both of his parents are from Chaves in northern Portugal, and Ramos has spent a significant amount of time in the European country, including a stint as a player in a professional league there following college.

Because he split substantial time between the countries post college, he holds dual citizenship.

“The funny thing about that is I’m 100 percent Portuguese soccer, so although I am born and raised here in the States, I support Portugal 100 percent and I always tease my players, and my players fire right back at me,” Ramos said.

Ramos pulls for the U.S., too, which makes this group especially tough for him. He remembers the last time the U.S. and Portugal faced off in World Cup play back in 2002, when the Americans pulled out a 3–2 victory.

His coach at North Stafford at the time, current Mountain View girls coach Steve Cassiday, had some fun at Ramos’ expense after that game.

“I just caught so much grief from Cassiday and everybody,” Ramos said. “I firmly believe I’m going to do less trash talking because anybody can beat anybody on any given day, but player to player, individual to individual, FIFA ranking wise, you have to go with Germany and Portugal coming out of the group.”

Appiah, who shares the last name but is of no relation to Ghana coach James Kwesi Appiah, is an unabashed fan of his home country’s team.

World Cup fever takes over the entire country, though this will be the second straight time Appiah has been in the U.S. during the games.

Appiah, who lives with his uncle in Stafford County, said he plans to call his homeland during and after games to speak to his mother and sisters and grandparents in Ghana.

He hopes this World Cup has a better ending for The Black Stars, who suffered a gut-wrenching loss to Uruguay in the round of 16 back in 2010 in South Africa. Ghana’s almost certain game-winning goal in extra time was thwarted by an infamous handball by Uruguay’s Luis Suarez.

Ghana was awarded a penalty kick, but the attempt bounced off the crossbar. Uruguay went on to win the game in penalty kicks.

“I actually still remember that well, and because of the actions of Luis Suarez, that kind of stung a little bit, because I felt if it wasn’t for that hand ball, his golden hand, that we would have gone far, and if we would have gone far it would have been big for African pride,” Appiah said. “Unfortunately we couldn’t convert that PK. It was painful. I couldn’t eat at all that day.”

Appiah thinks Ghana has the talent to make another run at the group of 16 and maybe more this World Cup.

“I actually feel strong about this group, because it can play wide, and it can play in the middle,” Appiah said. “The only thing I’m worried about is our defense. Our defense is a little shaky, but in soccer if you have a strong midfield, I think we can get away with a lot of stuff because of that.”

Nathan Warters: 540/374-5442