for National Geographic News
When the national soccer teams of Ghana and Brazil took to the field at the World Cup in Germany on Tuesday night, the sell-out crowd of 65,000 hoped to see some magic.
Back home in Ghana, a different kind of magic may have already been applied to the game (Ghana profile, maps, music).
In much of sub-Saharan Africa, it has long been common for soccer teams to turn to witchcraft, or juju, to gain a competitive edge. Teams might, for example, summon witch doctors to cast spells on opposing teams.
Because of the secrecy surrounding such practices, it's difficult to tell how widespread they are in Africa today.
Most people seem to agree that the rituals are far less common than they used to be, and that mostly smaller soccer clubs turn to witchcraft for help.
Oliver Becker is a Frankfurt, Germany-based documentary filmmaker who has researched African cult beliefs and witchcraft in soccer.
He says it's safe to assume that some groups in Ghana performed juju rituals ahead of the game against Brazil.
"Traditional medicine and religion play an important role in most African societies," Becker said.
"Soccer is by far the number one sport in Africa, so it's logical that traditional beliefs would also play an important role in soccer."
Becker depicts the world of soccer juju in his film Kick the LionFootball and Magic in Africa, which premiered last month as part of the World Cup's art and culture program.
In many African countries traditional healers and religious leaders can be summoned to perform juju ritualsfor a price.
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