Friday 14 March 2014

/ by Colin Udoh

It has become a popular and everyday national anthem. Ghana is capable of winning the World Cup, according the staunch believers.
 The chief vocalist of that chorus has been the Ghana Football Association president Kwesi Nyantekyie who has not lost any opportunity to remind us that the Black Stars are capable of “causing a surprise” in Brazil. And that surprise includes winning it.
 Then there is the Minister of Youth and Sports Elvis Afriyie Ankrah. The minister is an energetic, vibrant young man. He leads the chants before games, he fires the players up in dressing rooms and has been seen leading the celebratory chants sometimes.
It is easy to sense the passion Ankrah has ahead of the World Cup and easy to discern Nyantekyie’s belief in the side. Reality though suggests a lot of that is fuelled by a desire to say the right things in public. Truth is this Black Stars team will not win the World Cup in Brazil.
When I wrote, amidst all the patronizing talk of this is Africa’s time before the last tournament, that there was no side on the continent capable of winning the World Cup, I was called a “typical Ghanaian pessimist”. That attitude of belief, of saying the right things and of being on the right side of public opinion is in.
 "The difference between the winner and the rest is simple: preparation and practice. There is no magic, there is not any weird formula - a little bit of luck comes into it but you create your own luck through preparation. It is possible for an African country to win the World Cup - the sky is the limit," the Minister says.

 Ghana coach Kwesi Appiah has been more cautious. He speaks of a Ghana team that is capable of going one step better. And one step better will be reaching the semi finals of the competition.

 “When I look at our mix of youth and experience, the hunger of this team, I feel we can do something special in Brazil,” he says. "I have always been confident that we can do better than we did in South Africa if we get it right.”

Appiah’s belief is grounded in a squad oozing with experience. There will be three members in his world cup squad who played in Ghana’s first world cup in Germany. Michael Essien, Asamoah Gyan and Sulley Muntari have seen it all at international level. And then there is a second group of players who were smashingly brilliant for Ghana at the 2010 edition. That group includes Kevin-Prince Boateng, Dede Ayew, Kwadwo Asamoah and Samuel Inkoom. There is also a third group of talented youngsters whose progress in recent years fill Appiah with incredible hope. Christian Atsu is thriving at Vittese Arnheim where he is on loan from Chelsea. Majeed Warris has taken to international football like a duck to water. Rabiu Mohammed when he is fit puts in incredible work in midfield. All the major actors will go to Brazil having had some top level football experience before.

The belief is that the mix of youth and experience is what will see Ghana through. But the skeptics, and there are many of them, laugh at that claim. They say getting out of a group with Portugal, Germany and USA will be “miraculous”.

While that may thread the line of absurd, it paints a good picture of the size of the task facing Ghana. Germany are masters at this level and with a crop of players generally recognized as some of the best in the world. Mesut Ozil, Thomas Muller, Manuel Neuer, Mario Goetze are all world class talent. With Germany’s famous technical organization and prowess to boot, the widely accepted wisdom is that they are odds on favourites in that group.

Then Portugal have Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese have been derided as a one man team but it has worked for them given the Real Madrid star’s phenomenal ability to decide games on his own at any level. And then there is the USA, beaten twice by Ghana but who with Jurgen Klinsman now in charge look a completely less conquerable side.

While it is a tough, tough group, those who are instantly dismissive of Ghana’s chances to be able to get out of the group demonstrate at least from the Ghanaian perspective a poor sense of history. In two previous World Cups, Ghana was not expected to qualify, let alone do well. In both, the Black Stars were Africa’s best team at the tournament.

In 2006, Ghana was in the same group with eventual winners Italy, Czech Republic and USA. All three were top ten ranked sides in world football at the time. Many Ghanaian fans and journalists, myself included travelled to the tournament with our return flights fixed for the day after the final group game. That belief was strengthened even further after the first loss to Italy. Then against Czech Republic who were flavor of the moment the Black Stars produced their best moment in world cup history, winning 2-0. A second round berth and a 0-3 loss to Brazil did not douse the amazing sense of pride that came with.

Four years later in South Africa, Serbia had a wonderful European campaign and were mentioned in several outlets as dark horses. Ghana beat them and went all the way to the quarter finals before losing on penalties.

That is why the likes of Asamoah Gyan, a hero and villain in Ghana’s brief World Cup history chuckles when he is told “Ghana cannot get out of that group.” His response is “We heard that before. They even said we could not qualify for the tournament.”

Gyan, like many of his colleagues, feels grossly underestimated but is happy in the knowledge that in those situations, they have shown an ability to respond beautifully. And while that has never been in dispute, there is enough evidence to suggest winning will be a step too far.

Look closely at Ghana’s record. Against the A class nations the Black Stars have struggled. Germany, Italy and Brazil have all had comfortable wins. Ghana’s team while solid is one grossly lacking in an ability to win with trophies at stake. This is a country still chasing a first Nations Cup title in 32 years, a country that in the last two African Nations Cup tournaments, have blown what were realistic chances of ending that trophy drought. And for all that is said about the good talent level, it is a country over reliant on Gyan for goals at the international level. There simply isn't enough depth and quality to win the World Cup.
It would be amazing if Ghana did. For journalists like me, it will present unprecedented opportunities, for the players it will elevate them to lifetime heroes. But it is a bridge too far in the purely football sense.

 By Michael Oti Adjei

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