Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Ghana's Black Satellites - FIFA U-20 World Champions

Last Friday, the Black Satellites put in a finale to cap an impressive outing in the FIFA U-20 World Cup by beating mighty Brazil on penalties to emerge champions. I had watched every single Ghanaian game in the tournament, following the boys' men's progress. It was such an awesome feeling to finally win another World championship after the Black Starlets ruled the world at the U-17 level in 1991 and 1995. Congratulations to the whole squad, the technical team, and the fans who supported the Satellites with their prayers, and encouragement. This world triumph has not been without talking points and I'll seek to address some in this post. Being world champions at youth level is not the end, we have to build on this and become a world-class footballing nation at every level. The name Ghana should be on the lips of football fanatics all year round, forever.

This class has been magnificent from the get-go. Two years ago, they lit the FIFA U-17 World Cup and just fell short at the semi-final stage to Bojan Krkic's Spain. Fortunately, Nigeria's team emerged as world champions, interestingly, on penalties as well. The Flying Eagles were not able to repeat their run in this year's U-20 tourney in Egypt, bowing out disappointingly early on. The Black Satellites featured a good chunk of the Starlets' team from 2007, with the addition of some stellar youngsters. Consistency is key. Michael Essien and his Satellites mates made the final of the U-20 tourney in 2001 and now mostly make up the Black Stars. There is talk of drafting some of the present Satellites stars into the senior national team and eventually, they should make up the core of Ghana's shining golden stars.

I have a lot of admiration for Andre Ayew. He's had the pressure of being Abedi Pele's son on his shoulders, and was a magnificent captain for the Black Satellites. I believe he's gonna be world class as well if he keeps on working hard. He disappointed Ghanaians with his senior performances, especially at the African Cup of Nations last year held in Ghana, but we have a renewed faith in him. Samuel Inkoom has been capped by Ghana and he really helped his case with a fine tournament. David Nii Addy was also stellar and as a natural left-back, he has the chance to lock up that position in the Black Stars for years to come. Emmanuel Agyemang Badu had also gotten the chance to play for the national team and he's a gem too. He's a great defensive midfielder and eventually, would be in the reckoning for Ghana's midfield. Opoku Agyemang has played for the Black Stars but he was the one disappointment in the Egpyt tourney and has to show some more to challenge for a Black Stars' spot.

Dominic Adiyiah was the revelation of the competition, winning both the Golden Ball and Golden Boot. We've been here before, with Ishmael Addo, Owusu 'Bayie' Afriyie, and the countless Black Starlets strikers who lit the youth tourneys and didn't become world class. We have to do what we can to make sure Adiyiah and Ransford Osei (who I rate very highly) make the right decisions and improve so we can have some new Tony Yeboahs. They will get chances to play with the Black Stars. Ishmael Yartey and Saadik Adams were absent at this tournament but are very good as well. Together with Abeiku Quansah, Kelvin Bossman, the future attacking line looks bright,etc.

Daniel Agyei was the hero of the final, keeping us in the game and saving twice in the penalty shoot-out. He'll get a chance with the national team too and I believe he will be great. The centre-half duo, Daniel Addo and Jonathan Mensah are stalwarts too. Jonathan is already being dubbed the 'Junior Rock of Gibraltar' and I personally think he's ready to start for Ghana. Daniel Addo was the unlucky victim of a terrible refereeing decision in the final, with his red card making Ghana play a man down from the 37th minute till the end of extra-time. You have to admire the Satellites' resilience as they didn't get broken. A Brazilian friend complained Ghana played defence all game, but you don't have much of a choice when you are a man down and we still created some chances.

Sellas Tetteh did a great job coaching, though he was suspect at times. A Ghanaian coach has brought Ghana yet another honor and the case for a local coach for the Black Stars will only get stronger. I will argue Sellas had a great bunch of lads and he shouldn't get all the credit. Our Ghanaian coaches are not as technically gifted as some of their European counterparts and they need to get better there. We have to stop the favouritism in player selection, do more scouting of opponents and learn to use the squads better. I am all for a local coach but I am more a proponent of excellent coaching and team management. Sellas should be drafted onto the Black Stars bench to help Milovan Rajevac. We should nestle more Milo bicycle kicks in conjunction with some Borbor dances. It's a great recipe for success.

Many people have argued that the U-20 tourney has lost some of its glory. Surely, as many European teams don't really feature their star youngsters. England, Italy, Germany, Spain and even Brazil had some youth world-class players unavailable because they were warming benches for world-class teams. That shouldn't take the shine of the tournament, because those excuses cannot be made once the tournament starts rolling. Many Ghanaians would also argue and joke many of the Satellites players are 'older than 20'. This notion has bedevilled FIFA youth tourneys since time immemorial. I must admit Ghana has been doing a better job with controlling age-cheating with more stringent measures taken and the use of the Academicals system. The age-cheaters have seen their age catch up to them later in their careers, as their careers are cut short or the trajectory is unlike what its promise was. This problem starts at the colts level and with better Ghanaian institutions, we can get rid of this problem.

Ghana's triumph has been attributed in many circles to a Nigerian pastor called T.B. Joshua. Prophet Joshua apparently told Sellas 'what to do' and backed the Satellites with prayers, like Ghana's many fans around the world. We thank God for His favour but Prophet Joshua shouldn't be owning all adulation for a valiant effort by the Satellites team. We have to put ourselves in positions to succeed and as the saying goes, God helps those who help themselves. The attitude of waiting for God to do it isn't the way forward, we have to work hard also. This is the precedent we have to set. I am sure President Atta Mills understands this and would be able to use the example of the Black Satellites to spur on Ghanaians everywhere.

I also want to shout-out Egypt for organizing a successful tournament and especially getting behind the Ghanaian team after they were eliminated. Africa, this triumph is for you. This was the first African championship squad at the World Junior championships. This is a really good omen as the African game improves. The World Cup in South Africa is less than a year away and we have to believe an African team can win it. Ghana, remember the name. It was the most-searched item on the internet during the 2006 World Cup, still holding such a record and Ghana was a trending topic after the world-beating job was done in Egypt. We're not done. Go, Ghana, go. God bless our homeland Ghana ei, nkunimdie yɛ yɛn deɛ a!
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