Posted: Tuesday 24th June 2014 at 7:00 am

Clutching At Mathematical Straws

One of the most widespread phobias suffered in Ghana is arithmophobia – the fear of numbers and arithmetic.

There are some people who, like me, have been terrorised by maths since their primary school days when each schoolday started with “mental”, a quick-fire round of questions in arithmetic.

In our case, our Class Six teacher, a tall gangly man, used “mental” as the pretext to beat us every morning. His trick was not to allow you time to think before bringing his long cane down on you. Instead of producing a class full of enlightened kids, the effect of this brutality was a class full of wailing children, many gnashing their teeth as well.

I mention this because suddenly even my arithmophobic friends, and there are a few, have all become ardent mathematicians. At the drop of a coin or scoring of a goal, they can do the maths and tell you how many points Ghana needs at every step in order to escape from the hermetic embrace of the Group of Death into the open spaces of World Cup football.

So it was that last Sunday night the 25 million coaches, now satisfied with their previous night’s work in securing the draw with Germany, now set to work as 25 million mathematicians.

This deft calculating had serious implications for Ghana’s diplomatic standing in the real world. For example, we started the World Cup believing that we would make mincemeat of the USA and choose a draw with either Portugal or Germany.

Of course, things changed and we realised that we would need the support of one of the European football superpowers after we suffered the American nightmare.

By Sunday the calculation was simple. If the US beat Portugal we would be out. That meant forming a hypothetical or even spiritual alliance with Portugal.

Remember that at the onset, we so feared the genius of Portugal’s Ronaldo that our current Chief “Fetish” Priest, one K. Bonsam, claimed credit for giving the Portuguese maestro the bad knee. Now, as the nation came to the conclusion that Portugal needed to be our ally, my friend Yaa asked whether we had apprised Mr. Bonsam of the change in strategy.

Anyway, out of this desperate calculation a nation was born. It was given two different names. Some called it Portughana but I preferred the simpler version: Ghatugal. Messages were sent to the Portuguese reminding them of how King Kwamina Ansah of Elmina had cordially received their own Don Diego D’Azambuja back in the good old days of 1492.

Indeed, some even reminded the Portuguese that they had taken a lot of gold from the land which they were the first to describe as the Gold Coast. As Nkrumah might have said, the football fate of Ghana was meaningless unless it was linked to the liberation of Portugal from the claws of Yankee football imperialism.

Portugal nearly suffered that fate. Ronaldo, whose knee Mr Bonsam had rashly destroyed spiritually and was more like a burden on the other players during the game, suddenly found one perfect cross which connected with the head of Valera and the rest, as they say, is history.

Except that in this case, the rest is actually the future. This is where Ghanaians, now restored back from being ‘Ghatuguese’, have to find the perfect mathematical formula that delivers us into the next round. Now, here is the calculation: if the Germans beat the Americans and we beat the Portuguese – our former friends , we are in.

Don’t ask me how it works but this is the verdict of 25 million mathematicians. In truth, one point from two games is hardly the mark of World Cup champions, but who wants to be realistic? At this point we are clutching at straws and any straw will do, especially the maths variety.

Never mind. We are still in there. Hope springs eternal. Don’t give up. Not yet.

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