We’ve heard from some of the game’s established players over the course of this World Cup, but what about the names of the future? On the eve of Ghana’s quarter-final against Uruguay, I spoke to a young man striving to make a name for himself and make his family and country proud.
Stephen Odai is an 18 year-old Ghanaian student, who plays in goal. He’s been spoken of as a player with enormous potential and it’s said that every club in Ghana have their eyes on him. But the stark reality is that Stephen sleeps on a cardboard bed in a metal container. He goes to school in the morning, trains in the afternoon and works at night to support the nine members of his family as well as pay his secondary school fees. As part of the 1GOAL: Education for All campaign, Stephen is now in South Africa, hoping to meet his footballing heroes and cheer them on against Uruguay at Soccer City. With 24 hours to go before kick off, on the footbridge to the famous stadium in his sights, we discussed his — and Ghanaian — hopes.
Tell me about your background?
I’m from a poor family and we’ve suffered from financial difficulties. In Ghana, if you’re not rich, and can’t buy what you need, it’s not easy. We were not in good shape but due to the support of 1Goal, everything is now possible and I really appreciate the effort. Football is a great opportunity to earn money. I’m hoping to play to the limit of my ability just like Kaka, Júlio César and Edwin van der Saar. If I can do this then my family can move on. They are proud of me and support me to become a star.
What it is like being in South Africa?
It’s the greatest feeling to be here in South Africa because it’s my first time traveling outside of Ghana. Being in South Africa is like being in Europe because the facilities, equipment and culture are very good. And everyone wishes they were in South Africa right now!
And you met Jessica Alba and Bono I hear?
I met them in Ghana and I was really happy to meet them. It was a great achievement for me.
What is your dream? I understand it would to play in goal for Chelsea as well as Ghana?
Yes, it is true. My dream is to become a very big goalkeeper in the future for everyone to see what is in me and to develop what is in me.
Who are your favorite goalkeepers?
My favorite is Richard Kingson (the 32-year-old has played in every game for Ghana at this World Cup) and I also like van der Saar and Iker Casillas.
How excited and proud are you about Ghana making the quarter-finals?
I am really excited for their performance and for them to still be in the World Cup. During qualification, it’s not an easy task to make it through to a World Cup but we made it through and we really can go for it.
How do you think they will do against Uruguay?
It’s not going to be an easy game because Uruguay aren’t a small team. They are a good side and have quality players. It’s going to be tough but we will definitely put them down!
Give me a prediction.
You won’t need extra-time as you did against the U.S.?
No, there will not be extra time! We are going to win in 90 minutes.
And can Ghana win the World Cup?
Yes but that will depend on belief and how they cope together. If the tactics and discipline are good, we can win the World Cup.
— Update —
Stephen met the Ghana team Thursday tonight and they presented him with tickets to the game tomorrow. It will be the first time he’s seen the Black Stars in action. Perhaps one day he will be playing for the national side, inspiring youngsters to follow their dreams. Only this sport, and the World Cup, can have such a deep impact upon people.