The Argentina Experience (I)

Tue, 9 Nov 2010 Source: --

By Theodore M. k. Viwotor, a. k. a Solomon Davids, from Argentina

It was a trip characterized by a lot of challenges right from Ghana through to Argentina, precisely Cerrito, where the tournament took place.

The Amputee World Cup was supposed to have started on the 16th of October, 2010 but on that very day, the Ghana National Team, the Black Challenge, were still in the country due to the delay in securing funding for the trip. However, on that day, it was clear that the team were going to participate in the games courtesy a last minute presidential intervention.

For some of us who went as media men, it is a different story altogether. My focus here would be on the team’s general experience in Argentina. After the necessary documentation and checks at the airport in Accra, the contingent of players, officials, media men and volunteers were airborne a South African Airline en route to Johannesburg, South Africa, for onward transit to Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The contingent arrived in South Africa early in the morning of Sunday, 17th October, after 6 hours in the air and had to quickly go through the check-in formalities for the next flight to Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina. After over 11 hours of flight, we were in Buenos Aires at around 4 p.m. due to the difference in time (Argentina is 3 hours and 5 hours behind Ghana and Argentina respectively). Under normal circumstances or with the same time, we would have arrived in Argentina at around 9 p.m, having left Johannesburg at around 10 p.m.

The first of the challenges of the team began after the main one in Ghana. As the entire contingent waited for their luggages for some time, we were surprised to learn that the luggages did not come with us to Argentina. They were still in South Africa because there was a mix-up in Accra over where the luggages were going. Since we were going to South Africa on transit, there should have been an indication of the final destination on the tags in Accra but that was not done. We were assured that everything would be done to get them for us but we were to go to Cerrito, the town hosting Group C, immediately to avoid further delay that was very likely to cost us participation in the World Cup (Castle had intervened to get an extension for the Black Challenge)

The journey to Cerrito was another long one that took eight (8) hours nonstop. Exhausted from the long travel, the Black Challenge arrived in Cerrito at about 3 a.m on Monday, 18th October, took some snacks and went to bed. That very morning at 11 a.m, the team had to get to the stadium for their first match against El Salvador and they rose up to the challenge. The match was virtually ending in a goalless draw when the referee allowed a goal by El Salvador from a free kick when he had not whistled for the kick to be taken. The Ghanaians also had a penalty that was disallowed. The goalie of El Salvador came out of his box (Dee) and caught the ball and the rules stipulate that the goalie be given the red card and his team concede a penalty. Surprisingly, the referee awarded a free kick to Ghana and issued a yellow card to the goalkeeper.

Mr. Francis Adjetey Sowah, leader of the delegation and now president of Amputee Football Federation of Africa (AFFA), wrote a strong worded protest to the World Amputee Football Federation (WAFF) but it was not upheld even though it had a lot of substance. With the loss, Ghana went into 3rd position ahead of Liberia, who lost 3 -0 to Turkey. Turkey were 1st and El Salvador followed. The Ghanaians played the first match in the borrowed kits of their Liberian counterparts who said they also had a similar challenge of arriving at Cerrito without their luggages but were fortunate to have gone early enough to receive them before their second match. Some of us had to be in the same attire for the next three days.

In the evening of the same day, Monday, 18th October, the Black Challenge had to get ready for their second match against stiffer opponents, Turkey, to whom they lost 8-0 in a friendly match in Istanbul, Turkey, two years ago. The Black Challenge had arrived late in Turkey for the World Cup so were forced to play friendlies, having lost the chance to participate in the tournament. It was a matter of David vrs Goliath or a match of revenge or repeat. Turkey were more confident, still living in that past glory. The Black Challenge, playing in the chilling weather of Cerrito at 9 p.m, therefore took them by surprise and scored a first half goal they struggled to equalize until the last seconds of the game when a very brief loss of concentration on the part of the Ghanaians resulted in the equalizer. The referee brought the game to an end right at the restart. Residents of Cerrito, who were behind the Black Challenge through the tournament, were highly disappointed and hooted at the referee in protest at his refusal to end the game long before the goal. The team was downhearted because a win would have boosted their chances of qualifying to the next stage.

The following day, that is Tuesday, 19th October, Ghana had the last chance to set an African record of advancing to the quarter finals stage if they beat their Liberian counterparts, whose chances had become slimmer after losing 1 – 0 to El Salvador. With their destiny in their own hands, the Black Challenge beat Liberia by 2 goals to nil. El Salvador later lost to Turkey by 3-1, leaving them with zero goal difference. Ghana, on the other hand, had a goal difference of +1. The goal difference rule was applied to the disappointment of the Turks, who had prior information that they were going to be in the same Group with Ghana at the quarter final stage. Unlike what pertains to normal football, teams which reached the quarterfinals stage were arranged into two groups for another set of matches among them, with the two leaders advancing into the semis. Ghana, Argentina, Turkey and Ukraine were put into the same group.

Ghana’s first match at this stage was against host Argentina on Wednesday, 20th October, at Crespo, a two hour drive from Cerrito. Crespo is the tournament headquarters and playing against the host nation at such a venue was certainly a daunting task but the team appeared unshaken by this scare as they boarded the bus to Crespo. The crowd started piling up at around 6 p.m for the match scheduled for 9 p.m. and no one needed to tell the Ghanaians that they were in for a match. The Ghanaians started the match well but lost concentration a few minutes into the game, giving the Argentines the leeway to pile up pressure on them. It was, therefore, not surprising that they scored two goals in the first half, with the crowd cheering them on.

If the first half was bad, then the second was hell. Ghana conceded three extra goals to end the match 5-0 in favor of the Argentines. On a lighter note maybe, one would say they spelt Ghana. The name Black Challenge, which implies the players are always ready for any challenge, reflected in the next game when the team met their Turkish counterparts at Crespo once again. Coming from that painful defeat, the gallant men stood up to the test and gave the Turks a game of their lives. With some five minutes into the game, the Black Challenge took the lead and ended the first half with it. In the second, the Turks came back and equalized. They piled up pressure on the Ghanaians but the resilient Black Challenge faced the challenge and forced the game into a draw. The Turks were not only disappointed at their inability to beat a team they had annihilated two years ago but surprised at the fact that they were more prepared than they. Turkey have a league system for amputee soccer and they came to Argentina well resourced in all areas.

Ghana’s hopes had been raised high with that draw so they prepared themselves for tough duel with Ukraine, who had abandoned their match against Argentina over a penalty awarded to the Argentines, thereby losing the three points at stake to their opponents. Argentina was at the top of the table with 6 points, Turkey had two from two drawn games, Ghana and Ukraine were stuck at the bottom with a point each. The stage was then set for last matches to determine who lands in the semis. The Black Challenge would have to beat Ukraine and hope that a draw or win for Argentina became the outcome of the other match.

Unfortunately, when Ghana were celebrating a 2-1 win against Ukraine at Cerrito, news came around that Argentina had lost to Turkey by 3-1 at Crespo, ending Ghana dream of winning the trophy or making it to the top 4.

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