It was this year, some 10 months ago on the 18th of January, at the Roumdé Adjia Stadium in Garoua, Cameroon when the Blackstars of Ghana were sent packing from the African Cup of Nations (AFCON). The hopes of 31 million Ghanaians was sent crushing my minnows Comoros, a country that holds a population not up to a million people. The Black Stars finished bottom of a group which also contained Morocco and Gabon having amassed just a solitary point after 3 games and also notoriously collected 2 red cards in the process. Their performance was nothing short of shambolic, disappointing and lackluster.
It is not to say that the general view of Ghanaians with regards to the Black Stars leading up to the AFCON was particularly positive, but their awful performance did nothing to revive their interest and love for the Senior National Team. With the Ghana Football Association (GFA) and the football authorities seeking to ‘Bring Back The Love’ their performance in the AFCON rather brought more hate and resentment to the team. However, rather than vexation, the aftermath of their terrible showing in Cameroon was met with nonchalance. The general mood of the country towards the Black Stars today is one of apathy.
After ranting throughout the tournament that he needed an Asamoah-Gyan-like striker in his team, the returnee coach, Milovan Rajevac was shown the exit door. In came coach Otto Addo of Borussia Dortmund, who himself played for the national team in his hey days. Him and Chris Hoghton were tasked to steer the affairs of the team after an initial battle between the GFA and the Sports Ministry as to which of the two should play the lead role. Their main task was to qualify Ghana to the World Cup. At the time,to qualify for the World Cup in Qatar, Ghana had to successfully negotiate a two-legged tie against arch rivals, Nigeria. A task they marginally achieved by way of the away goal rule at the Moshood Abiola National Stadium in Abuja.
Black Stars coach Otto Addo
Fast forward to November, 2022, the World Cup is here and the Black Stars play their first game against Portugal. The last and the only time we played against them was in 2014. Back then their star man Cristiano Ronaldo was in his prime and arguably the best player in the world. A Ghanaian witch doctor announced that he had worked his charms on Ronaldo resulting to an injury which he carried to the World Cup just so he won’t score against Ghana. Ironically, Ronaldo could not score against any other country but only scored against Ghana. Talk of witchcraft powers, that was some terrible one there.
Ghana go into this game again as underdogs, not that Ronaldo is in the form he once was, but the Portuguese side possess some brilliant talents on their hands who play for the best teams in Europe. Despite this, the goal for Ghana is still to win the game, it is a tough ask but it is one that is not impossible to achieve. This, because Ghana have a good team and some amazing talents themselves.
Between the time when the team qualified for the World Cup to when the squad for the tourney was announced, we have had some ‘foreign breed’ Ghanaians who have now been brought on board to feature for the national team. Notable amongst them is the Basque based Inaki Williams and Tariq Lamptey. Inaki’s brother Nico, has opted to play for the Spanish National team and if we progress well in the tournament, we might as well have a repeat of the Jerome and Kevin Boateng situation repeat itself, with two brothers playing on opposing sides in the World Cup. Southampton’s Mohammed Salisu has also now joined the gallant army after years of his pursuit.
The spirit in camp I hear is very high. Hopefully we get a win against Portugal to keep the mood sky high. The players arrived in Qatar clad in their smocks. A traditional outfit from the Northern part of Ghana, locally called Fugu or Batakari. The pictures were received with much glee and delight from Ghanaians. Little by little the love is returning.
The lads easily saw off Switzerland in an international friendly leading up to the mundial. Performances like this brings back some hope as the Swiss are no push overs themselves. They are ranked 15th by FIFA whereas Ghana is languishing at 61 in the FIFA-Coca Cola Men’s World Rankings. If the FIFA rankings is anything to go by, then the boys are very much ready for the task ahead.
Some section of Ghanaians expressed their displeasure at the omission of certain names they expected to have made Otto Addo’s list of 26 men to Qatar. Notable mentions are Jeffrey Schlupp, Felix Afena Gyan, Majeed Ashimeru and Joseph Paintsil. Schlupp, Ashimeru and Paintsil have been on song with their various clubs, playing week in week out and performing very well. It is very astonishing that they did not make the list. Ghana must have some team to leave these guys out. 19 years old, Felix Afena Gyan on the other hand has not been very bright with his new club Cremonese. The newly promoted Italian Seire-A side signed him from AS Roma in the summer and after featuring 7 times in the league he has returned 0 goals. Despite this, he was very instrumental in the Nigeria games that decided our fate to Qatar and many thought that he should have been included on that basis alone.
Football is a result-oriented game and if we are seeking to revive the love and affection of Ghanaians in the Blackstars then the boys need to get the results. Starting from Portugal they must put in a positive performance to get the attention of the nation. Ghanaians are humans, they know what our chances are against a side like Portugal hence, a spirited performance would do if the results don’t go our way. Our target for this tournament is to qualify from our group and see where fate takes us, just like in South Africa 2010. History shows that, if we achieve that, not just Ghanaians but the whole world will rally behind us.
The national team and Ghanaians is a love affair. That love has long been shuttered by the Black Stars, Ghanaians generally do not feel they can trust the boys any longer. But there is hope, because just like most love stories where trust is gone there is room for reconciliation and certainly this love affair can be rekindled and we can all go back to happier times. We have a long way to go though, but this long journey can be cut short if we produce a scintillating campaign in Qatar.
This World Cup has seen some giant slaying so far. Saudi Arabia defeated Argentina by 2 goals to 1. Japan who had never won a World Cup game defeated 2014 winners Germany by the same scoreline. Hopefully, the Black Stars will follow suit and destroy another giant on Thursday.