Can Black Stars end AFCON drought?
When Ghana won her 4th Africa Cup of Nations(AFCON) title in 1982 in Libya, Egypt had won only 2 titles and Cameroon had not won 1. As I type, the latter are one better than Ghana and the former are on 7 titles. It’s been 37 long years since Ghanaian hands felt the trophy. Co-hosting the tournament with Nigeria in 2000 couldn’t change the trend, neither could being hosts 8 years later, as the Black Stars placed 3rd.
Africa is getting ready for another tournament in Egypt from June 21 to July 19. 24 teams will battle it out for supremacy at a time there is a clear elevation of previously lesser known teams to the realm of notice. The underdog tag is fast losing currency, admitting new arrivals into the class of favourites or at least potential winners. Be that as it is, you still tip a very few as major title contenders.
So now back to Ghana – perennial underachievers as they are, there is a greater chance of the trend continuing than curtailing. To be fair, since ’82 the country has never been bereft of talent to win. There have been fantastic generations of players that have come very close, the latest being a young team that became runners-up to Egypt in 2010 in Angola and the side that lost to Ivory Coast in the final in 2015 in Equatorial Guinea.
The current crop is a mix of experienced and new players with quality to match. Worry is, the team goes into this championship with a good number of players out of form, especially in attack. The decision to drop Abdul Majeed Waris, a striker in form wasn’t taken lightly in some sections given the options available to coach Kwesi Appiah. Earlier, he had decided to strip Asamoah Gyan of the captaincy and hand it to Andre Ayew. Gyan wasn’t enthused and opted to take a walk until presidential intervention ‘forced’ a U-turn.
This, together with past occurrences have given cause for belief of a divided dressing room, amid a purported rift between Dede Ayew and Asamoah Gyan, with other players belonging to one group or the other. This is hardly an episode needed in a pre-tournament roadmap. Even before the birth of this undesirable element, the Black Stars had fallen out of favour with its fan base.
Ghanaians seem not to have recovered from the shame of Brazil 2014 WC, when players demanded cash before taking the field. The situation necessitated airlifting of money from Ghana to their camp. All the players were deemed mercenaries by fans and they came in for so much criticism. What followed was clear apathy at their games as the return to the drawing board took off.
Ahead of this tourney, there is not much hope in the team and this is borne out of the above narrative and not necessarily the ability of the players. Added to this is the manager; he is a reserved personality who is thought no to be in charge but represents political forces. He is not a fan favourite. However, his introvert nature should not be mistaken for incompetence. He could just be a victim of his own demeanour or persona.
Bring the issue of Anas’ number 12 exposé to the table and the case doesn’t look any better. The groundbreaking investigative piece has dealt Ghana footbal a huge blow with attendant injuries that will take some healing. The country doesn’t have a substantive FA in place to run football. There is a Normalization Comittee put together to act for no known duration because their mandate keeps being renewed. This does not brighten hopes of a normalized football space.
With all these, the quest to win the title at last is as tough as one can imagine. In two preparatory games, the Black Stars have lost 0 -1 to Namibia and drawn blank with South Africa – it doesn’t make for impressive reading even if it is not a measuring rod for appraisal. Truth is, Ghana has a very good first team and just a decent bench. It may not be prudent to start your best team always. Coach Appiah needs to have wild cards to throw in off the bench. Across the field, he has a great midfield where he has options to chose from – Mubarak Wakaso, Thomas Partey, Kwadwo Asamoah, Andre Ayew, Christian Atsu and Afriyie Acquah are a wonderful collective. Asamoah Gyan and Jordan Ayew are likely to lead the attack.
If Ghana fails to win the trophy, it’s not going to be unexpected. As it stands, no one or very few gives them a chance. Sometimes, great endings often result from unheralded beginnings and this could just be one such instance. The team can draw strength and inspiration from these negative tendencies and try the unthinkable. You must not be at 100% to win the AFCON. But, can the Black Stars end the barren run? I wish I could be 100% sure.
Yours in the beautiful game