Sports Features Tue, 14 Nov 2017

Out of the ashes Ghana should rise

How the tables have turned. A few years back, Ghana’s Black Stars swooped into Egypt and got a goal in a 1-2 loss to the Pharaohs.

However, the loss meant little as Ghana’s huge 6-1 win in Kumasi proved decisive in sending the Black Stars to its third straight World Cup.

What happened in that tournament is a can of worms best left to rot away from memory. But a few days back, the Pharaohs strolled into town and pulled off a similar feat by drawing 1-1 with Ghana after booking its ticket to the next World Cup in a previous tie against Congo.

The shocking absence of players from the Ghanaian scene is sure to generate a lot of headlines but between, Ghana’s brilliant performance against Egypt in 2013 and failure to make a fourth world appearance four years later, a lot has happened.

From replacing Kwesi Appiah with Avram Grant to replacing the Israeli’s services and reinstate Appiah as Head Coach, dealing with captaincy issues between Asamoah Gyan and Andre Ayew to falling flat in this year’s African Championship, a lot has gone wrong with the team.

Missing the World Cup will hurt, the thought of watching the best teams in the world compete without Ghana for the first time since 2006 is a situation not many millennia’s are used to.

The Black Stars failed to win a home game throughout the qualifiers as the side picked up drawn results against Uganda and Congo. Yes the team got robbed in Uganda but failure to secure maximum points at home cost the side the most. Perhaps trotting out players who showed little desire to wear the national colours was behind the team’s flat performances in the qualifiers.

With Egypt yearning to make its first World Cup appearance since 1990 and Uganda trying hard to pull off Ghana’s magical run in 2006 for its maiden appearance, channeling energy to defend an image slapped on the captain’s armband was bound to cost the side a place at the showpiece event.

Perhaps Ghana needed to miss out on the tournament to get that zeal and hunger back; perhaps the Black Stars needed to realize how poor they have been for a while. So the team’s next prospective appearance at an international competition comes in 2019 when Ghana attempts a fifth continental title since annexing the trophy in 1982.

The last time the Black Stars missed an international tourney was way back in 2004 at the African Championship in Tunisia. Since that disastrous mark, the team has been on the up with qualification to Germany in 2006 bookending an impressive qualifying campaign that included a pair of big wins over South Africa.

Missing Tunisia proved to be the turning point in the team’s outlook as young studs Michael Essien, Sulley Muntari and John Mensah were made permanent features in the starting lineup alongside Stephen Appiah and Samuel Osei Kuffour.

The young stars were part of successful juvenile teams in 1999 in New Zealand and 2001 in Argentina. The Stars best performance in a while was at the 2010 showpiece in South Africa where Ghana missed out on a semifinal berth with a very young group promoted from 2009’s Under 20 World Cup winning side.

The perfect blend of youth (Dominic Adiyiah, a younger Andre Ayew, Rabiu Mohammed and a younger Emmanuel Agyemang Badu) and veteran leadership worked big for the team. In similar circumstances, having youngsters like Ebenezer Ofori, Lumor Agbeyenu and Richmond Boakye-Yiadom pair with experienced guys like Harrison Afful and Jonathan Mensah was equally big as Ghana crushed Congo 5-1 away from home.

Though the level of talent from junior sides doesn’t quite match up to those of previous years, players who are likely to command spots in the team in the future made it out of relatively unsuccessful groups.

Daniel Amartey and Ofori featured for the Under 20 side that placed third at the World Championship in 2013 while Godfred Donsah played for the Under 20 side that got kicked out by Mali after losing 0-3 in the knockout stage two years later in New Zealand.

Ghana’s Under 17 side might have exited at the quarter final stage but a couple of players stood out in the competition including Captain Eric Ayiah.

With Thomas Partey stepping up to Essien’s patented plate with improved performances for club and country and Afful growing more comfortable in the captain’s role, the future bigger and brighter prospects the trophy starved football nation.

Source: Yaw Adjei-Mintah
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