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Ghana carry Africa's hopes, Brazil face Dutch
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Ghana carried the hopes of a continent in Africa's first World Cup on Friday while Brazil's coach Dunga said their quarter-final with the Netherlands could be one of the most thrilling matches of the tournament.
While all of Africa got behind the Black Stars for their bid to become the first Africans to reach the semi-finals when they face Uruguay on Friday, FIFA threatened to sanction Nigeria for political interference.
Jerome Valcke, secretary general of soccer's governing body, said Nigeria would be suspended if President Goodluck Jonathan did not reverse his withdrawal of the team from international competition because of its dismal World Cup performance.
Speaking in a local radio interview, Valcke gave Nigeria a deadline of 1600 GMT on Monday to comply.
The sanction would mean the blocking of FIFA funds and the banning of all Nigerian teams, including club, junior and female sides from international tournaments.
But Nigeria remained defiant. A presidency source in Abuja said the decision would not be rescinded because it was in the national interest to restructure Nigerian soccer.
FIFA had already warned the French government to keep out of the sport after parliament launched an inquiry into the 2006 runner-up's ignominious early exit here.
A survey in the Netherlands, which has never won the trophy despite its admired style of free-flowing soccer, said 40 percent of all workers would take the day off, or a half-day, to watch the afternoon match in Port Elizabeth.
"They are always difficult and beautiful games," said Dunga of the match. He captained the five-times World Cup winners to victory over the same opponents in the 1994 and 1998 tournaments.
Reflecting a mood across the continent, South African newspapers had headlines backing Ghana's attempt to beat the previous best performance by an African team. "Africa Unite, Black Stars carry continent's dream", said the Sowetan.
The Ghana Football Association said it had received a message of support from Nelson Mandela, Africa's most revered statesman. "We join everybody else on the continent and in the diaspora in wishing you success," Mandela said.
Striker Asamoah Gyan said they could make history.
"We have an opportunity to do something never done before... we have no doubt we have all the African support."
The Netherlands' four-out-of-four wins in South Africa have been solid rather than spectacular. Yet with attacking talent like Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder, Robin van Persie and Rafael van der Vaart, they pose a real threat to the Brazilians.
For all their legendary strike power, Brazil have also become masters in defence under Dunga.
Despite criticism at home for abandoning flair, Dunga appears to have found a winning formula of impregnable, European-style defence combined with the lightning-fast counter-attack capacity of Robinho, Kaka and Luis Fabiano.
Ghana need to beat a mean-looking Uruguay side, who are one of an unprecedented four South American teams in the quarters and also have history calling them.
"La Celeste" won the World Cup in 1930 and 1950 and would love to recapture those early glory days. Strike pair Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez's five goals between them so far would suggest the South Americans may have the upper hand.
The World Cup has attracted far more foreign fans than expected, helped by the lack of trouble and crime, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan said. The numbers were likely to be around 500,000 compared to a pre-tournament estimate of 375,000 or less, he told reporters.
This could give a bigger boost to economic growth this year than an original estimate of 0.4 percentage points.
World Cup failures have led to a merry-go-round of coaching changes. Laurent Blanc was appointed new French coach on Friday replacing Raymond Domenech who presided over the South African disaster. But the English Football Association said Fabio Capello would stay on, despite his side's 4-1 drubbing by Germany, their worst World Cup defeat.
FIFA said the captain of every quarter-finalist would read out a declaration condemning racism and any other form of discrimination in both soccer and society.
(Reporting by Reuters World Cup team; Writing by Barry Moody and Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Ossian Shine)
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