In 2006, Ghana made their first ever appearance at a World Cup in Germany. The Black Stars may have been debutants, but they certainly showed no signs of stage fright on the big stage as they made it to the round of 16.
Four years later, in the first ever tournament staged in Africa, they went one step further. Ghana became only the third African nation to make it to the quarter-finals, before losing in heart-breaking – and somewhat controversial fashion – to Uruguay in the quarter-finals. It was an impressive return for a country only making their second appearance, and hopes were bright they could perhaps take that even further in their third appearance in Brazil.
However, 2014 was an utter disaster. Stories of infighting were rife in the local press as the team crashed out in the group stage. Again, Ghana were pitted against the United States, and many had expected them to yet again defeat the Stars and Stripes; after all, they had done it in 2006 and 2010, so third time should be the charm. However, the Yanks finally got their revenge and beat them, such that despite managing an impressive 2-2 draw with Germany, it was not enough to save them from a group stage exit.
Kwesi Appiah, the man in charge for 2014 was sent packing in lieu of Avram Grant, who took charge of the side for the 2015 and 2017 AFCON tournaments before resigning. Appiah is now back in charge, and his return has predictably caused some consternation amongst supporters.
Why? Well, for starters, his last World Cup campaign was nothing short of disappointment. He lost the faith of the squad and control of the dressing room. Whilst some of the so-called “bad elements” – reported ruckus-causers like Kevin-Prince Boateng and Sulley Muntari are no longer with the team – the general feeling is his man management skills are not up to task.
Ghana’s quartet, which includes Egypt, Uganda, and Congo is nowhere as difficult as it could have been. When this group was announced, most figured that the Black Stars would be battling with the Pharaohs for top spot. Yet, they’re now struggling just to even crack the top two. After the first three games, they had scored just one goal. One goal out of 270 minutes of action is a very poor return, but that’s what happens when a team draws 0-0 on home turf with Uganda and loses 2-0 to Egypt on the road before managing a very bad 1-1 stalemate with Congo – again at home.
Appiah rung the changes for the reverse fixture against Congo, dropping Asamoah Gyan and the Ayew brothers (Jordan and Andre), and giving Atletico Madrid starlet Thomas Partey a more prominent position. It paid dividends. Partey netted a hat-trick during the 5-1 rout of Congo, leaving some to wonder why on earth Appiah didn’t use the same formation – and personnel – during the first leg back in Kumasi when those three points really were needed. In fact, Partey has scored four out of Ghana’s six goals. And who’s chipped in with the other two? Richmond Boakye, who plies his trade for Serbian outfit Red Star Belgrade. Not his more heralded colleagues Jordan or Andre Ayew, or Ghana’s all-time top goalscorer Asamoah Gyan.
So what’s gone awry for Ghana? An overwhelming tendency to play favorites. Namely, a rather disconcerting tendency to rely on one’s past reputation rather than output on the pitch, or one’s “name” versus actual results, especially when it comes to team selection. The results from both the double-header against Congo further illustrate this fact, and it seems that Appiah has finally started to sit up and take notices. Unfortunately, with just two games, and 180 minutes to go, it seems like it just may be too little, too late. Ghana’s fate no longer rests in their hands, and they will have to hope that both Uganda and Egypt – both of whom did them some favors along the way will have some slip-ups next month for them to have any modicum of hope at securing a spot at next year’s tournament.
In short, they only have themselves to blame for missing out on a golden chance to banish some of the disappointment from the debacle of the 2014 World Cup that really erased the great progress they had made at 2010 in South Africa.
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