ACCRA, January 27 – Early Sunday morning, Pastor Michael Ayiesu is leading the prayers at Ringways Assemblies of God church in the heart of Accra.
His shoulders are draped with the Ghanaian flag as he prays.
"God give the team guidance and support, give them strength, take care of them and give them victory."
The church’s walls are lined up with the Ghanaian flag and even the altar spots the famous colours of gold, red and green.
The lady leading the praise and worship is wearing a Ghana replica T-shirt. In her hand is a trumpet that she blows consistently as she leads worshippers through singing sessions, mostly praises for the team.
It the opening day of the tournament and they are praying for the Black Stars. Beseeching God for that extra help to lead their team to Nations Cup glory on home soil.
"We are Ghanaians and therefore must remember our boys and pray for them for with God, everything is possible," says Ayiesu adding, "We said special prayers for the team."
"We believe God will guide them to victory because we want them to win and we are asking for the help of the almighty, says Joyce who was leading the praise and worship team.
Welcome to Ghana, the hosts for the 26th African Cup of nations.
Host and win is the mantra of the tournament and Ghana has pulled no stops in ensuring that the nation is whipped to a sense of patriotism and fervour never seen before.
Everyone is hoping that against all odds, the home boys will lift the coveted trophy for the first time since 1982 and have pulled all strings –divine intervention included, to support the Black Stars.
Another church on Spintex road fixed a giant screen and urged its congregation to come and watch the match from inside the church.
If one ever needed an assertion that football is a universal legally accepted drug-then Ghana is the perfect casebook.
The tournament has dominated everything here in this West African nation with virtually everything being put aside for the three-week event.
Everywhere you turn there is a splash of yellow- a loud reminder that Ghana is in the tournament.
‘Akwaaba’ (welcome) it reads at the Kotoka airport filled with posters of the tournament as well as the many sponsors looking to cash in on the biennial African football showcase.
The taxis – and they are many in Ghana, are all sporting the Ghanaian flag. The yellow, green and red flags also hang down residential houses, cars, rooftops and buildings.
On match day, almost everyone-young and old, men and women, wears a replica home nation jersey-be it a player’s shirt or just a one bearing a slogan or the national flag, but something to show support.
From waiters, to cab drivers to school going children, its Ghana’s day and they are all behind their side.
Pre-match previews dominate the airwaves on virtually all radio stations. Who should Ghana field? Who will coach Claude Le Roy bench? What system is best?
Television channels have not been left behind. They are awash with the tournament.
Outlandish sets and a myriad of football analysts are ever present explaining the nitty-gritty of the beautiful game. Even news presenters wear the Ghanaian shirts.
Hours before the opening match kick-off and thousands of fans jam Accra’s Ohene Djan sports stadium.
Those lucky enough to obtain tickets line up to enter while the unlucky ones just hang around the stadium just to be part of the camaraderie.
In the black market, a ticket (4USD) is going for us much as four times its price as fans scramble for a chance to watch their beloved side.
Inside the stadium, the atmosphere is electric. Fans blowing their horns, trumpets as well as waving their placards while a group of supporters with brass equipment keeps people entertained and full of vigour.
There are juju men adorned in all sorts of regalia -live chicken, pots, skins, and paint are some of the gear on show.
Banners of various fan groups dot the stadium; ‘Baby Jesus fan club’, ‘Tornado Fan Club’, ‘Michael Essien fan club’, ‘Koala Shopping Centre’, ‘Ok Eley Fan Club’, ‘Almas Dede Ayew Pele Fan Club’, ‘Muntari Fan Club’ and ‘Women Supporters of Ghana Club’ just to name a few.
Then the game starts and its absolute bedlam. Fans cheer and urge their side on and the noise reaches a crescendo when Asamoah Gyan gives then the lead. In the press stand, local journalists join in with the fans waving scarves and heartily joining in the choreographed Ghanaian cheers.
Fans act as instantaneous coaches giving various instructions and words of advice to their team each trying his or her best to help the cause.
Upon the end of a particularly difficult match-this time Ghana against Guinea, the entire city erupts.
Fans sing and dance their way out of the stadium and onto the streets of Accra where an impromptu party kicks off. Cars blaring horns and people dancing in the middle of the road litter the scene.
Oxford Street, one of Ghana’s busiest avenues was like one big carnival as people danced and sang after the Guinea mach. "The match was so hard that why we are celebrating," shouts a fan.
"Host and win," shout a group of young men while their friends do a jig in the middle of road and police struggle to control traffic but no seems bothered, its celebration time.
The following morning is followed by incisive post mortems on the match.
Radio and television stations have a no holds barred discussion on the matches while newspapers dissect the performance of each player, critique and give possible solutions.
This goes on till late in the afternoon when focus turns to the upcoming matches.
On the streets, fans continue with arguments on the goings on of the previous night.
And so the circle continues till the next day. But what happens if the team loses, "My husband simply can’t eat if Ghana loses, says Atta Krah, adding, "He is devastated if we don’t do well and he can barely look at the food."
Occasionally it gets out of hand like during the Ghana Namibia match where fans hurled all sorts of unprintable insults to Asamoah Gyan.
The striker had a particularly poor match and fans called radio stations with abusive and remarks about him and even threatened the player’s mother and family should he play again. (He and his brother almost walked out of the team in protest)
But despite such extremes, you have to give it to Ghana for gripping the continent with such passion and fervour and for backing their team with such conviction and togetherness.
When the team plays, nothing else matters.