Ghanaians began the week with news that their flagship national team, the Black Stars, had secured its place at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations – a full fortnight after last kicking a ball. The thrilling but risky finale the qualification series threatened to reach never happened but, hey, who’s complaining?
It did sound good, though not too good to believe, given the prospect had been on the cards ever since FIFA went in hard on Sierra Leone with a suspension for government interference in football; CAF’s decision to shove the West Africans entirely out of the AFCON picture following deliberation in Accra last week only sealed the deal.
That eviction left the three other teams in Group F with a scenario which proves favourable for Kenya and Ghana (who hadn’t yet taken any points off Sierra Leone and thus remain unaffected) but damaging for an Ethiopian side docked all three points (from a September win against the Leone Stars) and left with just one — worth nothing with no more games to play.
Ghana and Kenya get to contest the group’s final match in March 2019, but that dead rubber would merely decide who finishes top, while the Black Stars would have the extra motive of seeking revenge for a 1-0 loss suffered in the reverse fixture earlier this year. Ghana may achieve all that, yes, but the Stars might still come up short when it matters most at next year’s AFCON against rivals who have been much busier in 2018.
See, the international football calendar — with games few and far between — isn’t a very busy one, offering national team coaches only a handful of opportunities to build and tune their teams. And if any team is in need of building and tuning, it’s certainly Ghana.
With the objective of ending what would be a 37-year hunt for continental silverware, a fledgeling Ghana squad is running out of time to get in shape and would need each game on the menu. It’s bad enough that the Stars missed a slot — the year’s first — to take in a friendly or two as well as not featuring at a first FIFA World Cup in four editions, but being denied the double-header versus Sierra Leone in October leaves them even more handicapped: just four games all year, with only half of those being competitive.
Somehow, Ghana trainer Kwesi Appiah would need to make up for the lost time between now and June 2019’s AFCON finals – or spend the rest of the summer ruing how the relatively little on-field work he got done in the outgoing year cost him glory and, possibly, his job.