Thursday, May 25, 2017

Decades of frustration: Is this Ghana’s time at AFCON 2017?

Michelle Bonsu in Editorial 24 Jan 2017

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Asamoah Gyan is making his 7th AFCON appearance this year, but will this be the end to Ghana – and his – long wait? (Photo: Getty Images)

It goes without saying that Ghana have waited a long time to get their hands on the coveted AFCON title. The last time the Black Stars tasted victory in Africa’s premier national competition was back in 1982. Before Twitter. Or Facebook. Or Youtube, iPods, laptops, flat-screen TVs, cellphones, or evne before the internet became common place. And it was also before quite a few of Ghana’s current players were even born.

In terms of AFCON prestige, Ghana are definitely up there alongside Africa’s most decorated sides. With four titles, they are only behind Egypt’s seven and are tied with Cameroon. The sole time the Black Stars have successfully defended their title was in 1963 and 1965, whilst their other wins came in 1978 and 1982. Ghana have also made the finals on five occasions (1968, 1970, 1992, 2010, and 2015).

A painful history of Ghana’s runners-up finishes as AFCON tournaments

Finishing as a runners-up is obviously never an easy result. But the way that Ghana had to settle for second will certainly be even more painful. Let’s look at 1968. Coming into that edition, which was hosted in Ethiopia, the Black Stars were the two-time reigning champs. They were seeking to become the first African nation to make it a three-peat (which is something that Egypt would achieve nearly four decades later). Unfortunately, the country now known as DR Congo had other plans and edged them out 1-0 to win the title.

Two years later, Ghana again graced the final. And again, they were thwarted by a Sudan side not many had picked as heavy favorites to win it. After all, Ghana were featuring for the fourth straight time, and that is something no other team have achieved to date. The reigning champs, then called Congo-Kinshasa, finished bottom of their group.

It would take over three decades for the Black Stars to appear in another final clash. Their opponent? None other than the Ivory Coast. And in a very bizarre case of déjà vu – or perhaps a predictor of things to come over 20 years later –  that game was also decided on penalties. 11-10, to be exact. 23 years after that, in 2015, Ghana again faced the Elephants and lost, yes, again, on spot-kicks. In between that, there was a tussle with Egypt, in 2010 that saw them lose 1-0.

Close but no cigar: Ghana’s long track record of frustration

The 2015 loss will have stung more. Why? Ask any Ghanaian about the 2014 World Cup. If they frown and shake their head, or scoff in disgust, and you don’t know why, then here’s a simple explanation that should be pretty obvious. Ghana were not just bad at the last tournament, but they were outright embarrassing. It’s one thing to crash out of the group stage. It’s another to do so among wide-spread reports of in-fighting, attacks on the coach, and cash being flown in on planes the night before a big  game against Portugal.

So, it goes without saying that fans did not exactly welcome the team home with open arms  – especially considering how many people struggle just to put food on the table for their families. This author herself is still shocked and saddened to find that giving someone 100 cedis (about 23 USD – so something that really is not much money) just for feeling sorry that she hadn’t sold a single plate all day could cause that recipient to cry as if the they had won the lottery in the USA. But such is life for large swaths of people in Ghana.

2015 could have been the Black Stars’ chance at redemption. There was a new coach, ex-Chelsea boss Avram Grant in charge. And whilst some were still viewing the team with suspicion, some of the toxic elements (including reported trouble makers Sulley Muntary and Kevin Prince Boateng) had been flushed out. Unfortunately, however, it was not meant to be. And with them struggling in 2018 World Cup qualifiers, they may have to look at Qatar as the next time they grace the world’s most famous quadrennial tournament.

…but will this be finally their chance to shine?

Ghana have not exactly impressed so far. Although they have six points out of six, they have scored just two goals. Whilst AFCON 2017 has not been the most enthralling tournament due to a lack of goals, the Black Stars should have done better against Uganda and Mali. They were gifted a spot-kick by a rather comical error committed by an Uganda defender, and Asamoah Gyan’s bullet header, whilst impressive, unfortunately did not spark more effort from his team. Rather, it lulled them into a sense of complacency, and fans watching the game felt that a second goal would have allowed them to breathe a lot easier.

For Gyan, no other player on the squad has made more AFCON appearances than him (having featured at every single tournament since 2006). At 31, time is running out for him to finally get his hands on a major international title. Despite being his country’s all-time top goal-scorer, Gyan has been frustrated by his overall lack of silverware at club level. Yes, he’s won titles with UAE outfit Al Ain, but that hasn’t prevented critics from dismissing this as a mere byproduct of a player who “took the easy way out”. That is, he opted to play in the Middle East and China in the prime years of his career instead of continuing to try to establish himself in Europe after spells with Sunderland, Udinese, and Rennes.

Leading the Black Stars to glory then – especially after seeing them fall short two years ago – would certainly be the perfect crowing achievement on what has been a solid international career (on a personal level) but little to show for it on a team basis. The question is, of course, will Ghana make AFCON 2017 their time? Next up for them is a tie against familiar foes Egypt. They are already through to the quarter-finals, but beating the Pharaohs will obviously be the mission on Wednesday after losing to them in World Cup qualifying last year.

Ironically, there will be no re-match against Ivory Coast. The Elephants were dumped out of the group stage after losing to Morocco, which ironically in itself are being coached by Herve Renard – the same man who was on the Ivory Coast bench when they won this tournament back in 2015.

Ghana certainly can make 2017 their year to make it a fifth title and end a 35 year long wait for AFCON glory. It will be all up to them how they handle the next three games, starting with Wednesday’s clash against Egypt.

 

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michelle Bonsu


A freelance writer and student who is as passionate about fashion as she is about football, Michelle Bonsu currently contributes to several publications and websites including SoccerNews.com, LiveSoccerTV.com, Football-Italia, Top-Soccer, LeagueLane.com, and Soccer 360 magazine. Her areas of focus are Serie A, Bundesliga, Premier League, and Ligue 1, but she has also written match previews for MLS and the Primeira Liga.

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