Sunday, January 31, 2010

Recapping Ghana's Black Stars at CAN 2010

Oh so close! That's what I said when it dawned on me we had lost the game. The lady sitting near me seemed to agree with my assertion. I had been watching it with a couple of friends, two of which were Ghanaian. We watched as the 'boys' battled, stayed aggressive, created chances, foiled their opponents' chances, oohing and aahing through an edgy 90 minutes of football. I had predicted, 'whoever would score first' would win the game and the tournament. After all, we had had 3 consecutive lone goal victories. When that first goal came in the 85th minute and it wasn't for Mother Ghana, it seemed the game had been decided. How cruel! We didn't have enough time to respond. Football is like that. Sometimes it is not dictated by luck, karma, form, reputation, paper, prophecies, superstition or jersey colours. It is dictated by grabbing opportunities and utilizing them. People hardly remember the team that won silver, but even fewer remember the team that won bronze. Congratulations to Egypt for doing that and lifting the African Cup of Nations 2010 in Angola over Ghana.

I was one of many who didn't give the Black Stars much a chance to do well in the COCAN 2010. The team was inexperienced, and young. Some of the players were tested though. 7 members of the FIFA U-20 Youth World Cup winning squad were part of this squad, and they had passed the ultimate test of extra-time and penalties against the footballing nation that is Brazil. We had injuries to countless regulars and some other regulars were out of form or warming benches in Europe. As a lesson to one Black Star and his mother, Sulley Muntari was told, the Black Stars of Ghana still exists without him. "No Sulley Muntari, no Ghana" my foot. Konongo Pele will be proud of the Black Stars today. Stephen Appiah was too unfit to come provide moral support and Michael Essien had not fully recovered to stay in camp and provide the needed 'vim' to spur on the players available. Turns out our team had a whole lot of 'vim'! Black Stars, metu me kyÉ› ma mo!

I was loving and hating our group at the COCAN 2010. We were drawn together with our neighbouring countries. The names just looked good together - Ghana, Ivory Coast, Togo and Burkina Faso. If history had unfolded a little differently, all 4 countries could have been one. Imagine that for a second. 'Volta' sounds like the most appropriate name for this union. We would have been a strong and great nation. Let's discuss how great we could have been later but imagine the football team. We'll have Emmanuel Adebayor and Didier Drogba in attack. We'd 've had Jonathan Pitroipa on the right wing. A team capable of winning any major tournament. Kai, Burkina Faso and Togo joining Ghana would be enough sef. I'm allowed to fantasize. But fantasies don't play football either.

Because if they did, Greece wouldn't have that Euro Cup in 2004 and done 'kowtow' in the Olympics later that year. News of the Togolese team being ambushed rocked Africa and the footballing world. CAF proved how anal they were by banning them for their government interfering in the national team. If you want to punish the government, do you do it by banning the national team? Asamanka! (Kai, I don't remember the last time I used this word, but it feels to use it now). That said, how could the Cabinda rebels commit such a heinous act! Use a footballing tourney to draw attention to your rebel cause? Ambush a foreign nation's pride? Ungrande som! The Black Stars were to be the first opponents of the Hawks of Togo and waited a week to kick a ball. The rustiness must have shown because Ivory Coast's Elephants walked over the Stars in a 3-1 win. Ghanaians cried foul! The team sucks! They'll disgrace us. Milo doesn't taste good! Mumuvan is a horrible coach.

Me, I looked forward to the Burkinabe game. I knew we could win and that win was all the confidence this young, inexperienced but 'tested' team needed. The most recognisable player who fits the bill appropriately wore the crown. Dede Ayew's header sent Ghana through to a date with Angola in the quarter-finals. Somewhere I feared the Angolans would scare 'us' with news of being a bad host. Other than beating up a Ghanaian journalist and initially giving us a goal-postless training pitch, we didn't hear much. We made them pay. We took a chance and Angola's Palancas Negras (Black Antelopes) took none and Asamoah Gyan's shot sent us to the semis. A Black Antelope can only look unto a Black Star. ;-) Thanks Angola for a great tournament though. I still plan to visit the country, see Kuduro live in action and dance to some Kizomba with some linda babes. ;-)

Next up were the Super Eagles Chickens of Nigeria. I think Ghana-Nigeria is one of the biggest rivalries in all of sports. We had another chapter to write. To many Ghanaians, beating Nigeria would be enough for the tournament. After all, we didn't expect to challenge for the trophy anyway. Nigeria beat Ghana in CAN 2006, we gained a little revenge in the Brentford Massacre of 2007, We beat Nigeria again in CAN 2008, in front of the teeming Black Star nation at the Ohene Djan sports stadium in Accra. I was very confident we'd beat Nigeria though the game was in Angola and we had an undermanned team of 'boys'. But well, Omo Naija, you learnt what we Ghanaians already knew - "The boys are gewd". An Asamoah Gyan header decided the game. Nigeria cried that they had more chances but football sometimes works just like the lottery. Except here, you can dictate your destiny by 'taking your chances'. Besides, Zambia had watched their wasted chances turn into a penalty shoot-out that they lost.

So the final came. Our opponents - The Pharaohs of Egypt. The team that seemed to lord over African football but didn't have the vim, 'capa', drive, *something* to qualify for football's biggest showpiece, the World Cup. I believed we could beat them too. We knew our game plan and so far as we stayed disciplined and took our chances, the cup would be ours. We stayed disciplined and that one moment where we lost concentration led to their goal and we spurned many chances before. Hats off to Egypt. They kept to their game plan. They had 'destroyed' all their opponents, including Nigeria, Cameroun and their bitterest rivals, Algeria. For 85 minutes. they toiled against the Black Stars' discipline and didn't get rattled. Wait, did I just put discipline and Black Stars in the same sentence (favourably)? The future is bright. Egypt's team didn't start taking shots from 30 meters or rushing attacks. It's something we can learn from them. I don't know why coaches of the Black Stars are averse to making substitutions. How many games have we lost that Dramani started? Hmm, superstition. Thank you Egypt for teaching us a couple of things. Now sit at home and enjoy 'agoro-kpalongo-apatampa' soccer and attention-grabbing dances at the South African Mundial in June/July.

The Black Stars' team needs work and we'll address this in a later post. For now, thanks for the memories. Thanks for the highs where you showed us grit, determination, discipline and aggression could silence critics. Thanks for the lows that made sure success didn't get into our heads and we understood that there was more work to be done and that we may have been an unfinished product. We had a lot of revelations in this tournament and the 'boys' definitely grew with these games. The tourney should be successful, though we failed to lift the cup. Milo, I know I have criticized you for being from Serbia, but this year, you serb just one country. It is Ghana. Osee, osee, Black Stars ei, forward ever!

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