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Sports Features Mon, 8 Jul 2019

Ekow Amoasi writes: ‘Year of Return’ will not be complete without AFCON trophy

The Black Stars of Ghana are on a quest in Egypt to end the country’s 37 years trophy drought. The country after winning Africa’s finest tournament in 1982 after beating hosting nation Libya on penalties have struggled to win the trophy despite playing in the finals in 1992, 2010 and 2015 and has emerged as six consecutive semi-finalists.

Ghana has marked the 400th anniversary when the first enslaved African landed on the shores of Jamestown in Virginia, USA. As part of the celebration, Ghana has opened its door to the rest of the world interested in learning more about the culture, people and the stories of the most unfortunate trade in humans. In September 2018, Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo declared and formally launched the “Year of Return, Ghana 2019” for Africans in the Diaspora, giving fresh impetus to the quest to unite Africans on the continent with their brothers and sisters in the diaspora but this celebration will be incomplete should the Black Stars of Ghana fail to annex the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt.

It came as a big surprise to football fandom in the country when Cameroon who won the bid to host the 32nd edition of the tournament lost it hosting rights to Egypt. It will be recalled that the Black Satellites of Ghana were first African U-20 side to win the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Egypt defeating Brazil on penalties with Udinese Calcio midfielder Emmanuel Agyemang Badu scoring the winning goal under the auspices of Coach Sellas Tetteh in October 2009 with Dominic Adiyah emerging as the best player of the tournament and winner of the golden ball and the golden shoe award. Many football fans in the country have already expressed their confidence about the Black Stars winning the trophy in Egypt this year.

With less than a month to start of the tournament, Coach Kwesi Appiah made a huge decision by naming Andre Ayew as the new captain for the side with Asamoah Gyan being made the general captain of the side. The decision by the former Al Khartoum manager brought division in the media space. Asamoah Gyan who is Ghana’s all-time top scorer released a statement indicating his early retirement from the national team.

However, reports went rife that Coach Kwesi Appiah decided to drop Gyan from his provisional squad for the tournament until he [Asamoah Gyan] started scoring with less than a month to end the 2018/19 Turkish SuperLig season. According to reports, Coach Kwesi Appiah phoned the Kayserispor forward to congratulate him on his return to the Black Stars and to inform him that he will be made the general captain of the team whiles another player [in the name of Andre Ayew] leads the team on the field at 2019 Africa Cup of Nations but Gyan did not accept the decision of the coach.

The 33-year old announced his retirement less than 24 hours for Kwesi Appiah to release the provisional squad for the finals in Egypt. Gyan in a press release said he retired after being betrayed by the coach who handed the team armband to Andre Ayew.

“If the decision of the coach is to give captaincy of the tournament to another player while I am named in the team for the tournament, I wish to rescue myself from the tournament,” Gyan said partly in a statement.

“I also wish to retire from the national team permanently, not pretending my presence would not fuel the purported undermining the country has seen under my captaincy. I would continue to serve the country Ghana in other endeavours as a businessman through various investments. I can’t pretend to be happy. I would rather hurt myself emotionally and psychologically.”

However, after a swift presidential intervention, the former Sunderland and Liberty Professionals forward rescinded his decision to retire from the Black Stars. Reports that emerged from Jubilee House after a meeting between the technical of the Black Stars and President Akufo Addo indicated that Coach Kwesi Appiah maintained his decision on why he has named Andre Ayew as the new Black Stars skipper for the tournament with the presidency also backing the decision by Coach Kwesi Appiah to hand over the captaincy of the senior national football team, the Black Stars, to Andre Ayew other than Asamoah Gyan.

The former Udinese Calcio forward met Coach Kwesi Appiah to iron out their differences and planned on how the team will win the trophy in Egypt. "Met Coach today... Great family...Ghana our Beloved Country is first," Gyan tweeted.

The players were hosted by President Akufo Addo at the Jubilee House before they left the shores of the country to United Arab Emirates for their three weeks camping ahead of the tournament. In the president's address, he urged the Black Stars to win the upcoming Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) to honour the country’s 'Year of Return' slogan.

“Teamwork is at the heart of every success. Without it, you cannot succeed in football, and as it is, in every enterprise," President Akufo-Addo stated. Teamwork means all of you have to work for each other. Religious, ethnic and other divisions do not advance teamwork. You are the Black Stars of Ghana and it doesn’t matter whether you’re from Jamestown or Nalerigu or Walewale, you’re the Black Stars of Ghana. Helping each other to win is the sort of teamwork I’m talking about.”

"So, your slogan, that is [Ghana's] slogan of the year - ‘The year of return’. This indeed is the year of return. You have to respect unreservedly the authority of the coach and the authority of the captain [Andre Ayew]. That is basic rules, non-negotiable rules; if you don't do it, everybody will be going their separate ways. If you do that, you cement the teamwork and you will become a cohesive forceful force. It is my intention to come and watch your first match [against Benin] on the 25th of June and if with God's grace, which I believe He will give us, you make the final, I would come there as well to come and watch you," he added.

From the address of the president, one can only conclude that there is nothing is above these Black Stars players should they stay disciplined and play according to the instructions of the coach.

It came as a big worry to Ghanaians after the Black Stars played two friendly matches in United Arab Emirates without a win ahead of the tournament. The team lost to Namibia by a lone goal before drawing goalless with the Bafana Bafana of South Africa. The team’s lack of goals in these games left many fans concerned and Appiah explains, “Against Namibia, we didn’t create many chances which was a worry but against South Africa, we created so many goal-scoring opportunities and for me, that was the most important thing.”

“The other aspect as to making sure we get the balls in the net is something that we are going to work on in the next nine days,” he assured.

In all these, Kwesi Appiah sensationally revealed that the team’s preparation tournament “has been the most peaceful” under his reign.

“Since day one, we have been training very hard and the players have been cooperating very well. So far this camping has been the most peaceful. Everything is going so well. I am very confident in the team because it doesn’t matter who plays, all of them have confidence. Their willingness to kill themselves for the nation is really high and there is big time unity in camp,” Appiah told Joy Sports.

The decision by Kwesi Appiah to name Andre Ayew as the Black Stars skipper for the tournament and indicating that the camping in United Arab Emirates is the most peaceful camping he has enjoyed as the Black Stars head coach indicates that Kwesi Appiah and the Black Stars players have nothing to complain about than to end the country’s long absence of winning the trophy.

Ghana, who have been tipped to win the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations had a shaky start of the tournament after they were frustrated to a 2:2 by the Squirrels of Benin at the Ismailia Stadium with 10 men after John Boye was sent off.

Ordinarily, a 2:2 draw scoreline in an AFCON group game should not have caused so much discontent amongst us but recording a 2-2 result against Benin coupled with the uninspiring show of team created the sour feeling that, the team might not even make it out of Group F. It was not as if we disrespected or underrated Benin. It was simply that, the Black Stars did not live up to expectation. However, Kwesi Appiah and his men bounced back stronger against Cameroon in their second group match.

Against the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon, the team really played up to expectations. The confidence of the players was not entirely lost but was shaky due to the threats the Cameroonians possesses and despite drawing with the defending champions, Kwesi Appiah hailed his players for containing the Indomitable Lions to end the match goalless.

In Ghana’s final group game against Guinea Bissau at the Suez Stadium, the team exhibited some unimpressive and uninspiring performance for the first 45 minutes of the game but the team came back stronger and dominated the game with Jordan Ayew and Thomas Partey scoring both goals for the Black Stars to top Group F with five points which qualifies the team to the round of 16 of the tournament and it is only fair that football fans commend Kwasi Appiah and the team for their progress to the next stage regardless of how their form have been.

After the 2:0 win against Guinea Bissau, President Akufo Addo again reminded the team to win the ongoing tournament. “Congratulations to the Black Stars for their victory over Guinea Bissau and topping Group F. Best of luck in the Round of 16 match against Tunisia. Let’s end the AFCON trophy drought this year,” the president tweeted.

The Black Stars of Ghana will now play Tunisia in the round of 16 of the tournament today [Monday, July 8] at the Ismailia Stadium. We need not mince words however, over the fact that, in the round of 16, we will not have the chance to recover if we slide into the form we displayed against Benin. That would well mean elimination and the extension of the 37-year-wait for an AFCON title by another two years.

After securing qualification to the next of competition, general captain of the side, Asamoah Gyan shockingly said it is too early to demand the players to win the trophy. According to him, they came to the tournament with the intention of winning just like any other country but football has evolved so much that they have to put in so much effort to be crowned victors. “It is too early to talk about winning the cup because we still have some games to go and we are focused on our next opponent. We would give it our all to get to our target but we need to be ready and focused for our next game, then gradually we would be making a head way. Ghanaians should keep on praying for us and we would make sure we do our best. We have a long journey and would give our best,” he added.

Yes, every country’s ultimate aim is to win the ultimate but there is no doubt that there are some countries that are in to participate and leave. I don’t think Ghanaians will forgive the entire Black Stars team should they fail to win this year’s Africa Cup of Nations due to the massive investment the government has made in the team.

Ahead of the Tunisia clash, the players must convert any chances that come their way to avoid early elimination and with history going in favour of the Black Stars in the history of the Africa Cup of Nations, the technical team of the Black Stars will be hoping to maintain their impressive run against the "Eagles of Carthage" on today at the Ismailia Stadium.

The Black Stars of Ghana saw their first victory in the ongoing 2019 African Cup of Nations (AFCON), in Egypt, after handing a 2-0 defeat to Guinea-Bissau, to ensure qualification into the round of 16 as Group F leaders. The team would now face North African side, Tunisia - who failed to win a single match in Group E, today at 19:00 GMT in Ismailia Stadium.

Both teams had struggled in their opening games but Ghana seemed to have found its rhythm in their last group game with Tunisia drawing all three games to place second in their group. The Black Stars would not only be happy with their improved performance in the last game but would also be confident knowing that their opponents are not in their best shape especially in attack.

The 2004 AFCON winners with two goals are among the least scoring sides in the round of 16 and together with Benin are the only sides that did not win a game in their respective groups. Ghana scored four goals to indicate their attack is not dried out of goals and conceded two in the process. Moreover, Tunisia would have loved to avoid Ghana at this stage in the competition because of their poor record against the four-time champions.

The Carthage Eagles are yet to defeat the Black Stars at the Africa Cup of Nations in seven matches with their best result being a 1-1 draw in 1963 when they first met in the competition. The remaining six encounters have been a smooth sailing for the Black Stars with the recent victory coming in 2012 when Ghana current coach Kwesi Appiah was an assistant with the team.

In a combined 17 meetings between the two sides, Ghana have won 10, drawn three and lost four. With a win ratio of 86 per cent against their North African opponents and with their new found form, the odds are highly favouring Appiah’s men to win.

Co-incidentally Ghana met Tunisia en route to winning all their four Africa Cup of Nations titles- 1963, 1965, 1978 and 1982. Aside from their first ever encounter in 1963 which ended in a one-all draw Ghana have won their last six games against Tunisia in the Africa Cup of Nations. Ghana’s win ratio against Tunisia make the North Africans powerhouse the Black Stars easiest opponents in AFCON history, having beaten them more than any other country in the continent’s showpiece.

Ghana will either play DR Congo or Madagascar should they win against the Tunisians. Ghanaians are solidly behind Kwesi Appiah and the entire Black Stars team and are not ready to witness another heartbreak that happened in 2010 and 2015.

The Black Stars must clinch the 32nd edition of the Africa Cup of Nations to complete the ‘Year of Return’ celebration that is being championed by President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo Addo.

The best of luck to the Black Stars in the ongoing tournament. Email: appiahsamuelkow@gmail.com Twitter: @appiahsamuelkow

Source: Samuel Ekow Amoasi Appiah
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