FOREGONE CONCLUSION?

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An improbable 5-0 defeat to Egypt will see fans incredulous

The road to Brazil continues for the Black Stars as players assemble in Turkey for a two-week camp.

The aftermath of Ghana’s “beyond our wildest dreams” thrashing of Egypt’s Pharoes has been dominated by talk of the safety of our players and officials in Cairo. Admittedly, Cairo is not the most serene place on earth right now, with the prospect for upheaval seemingly a thrown stone away. The unpredictability did not prevent FIFA from sanctioning Cairo so barring a change of heart, Ghana’s focus has to remain on the pitch at the Air Defense stadium.

The Stars’ emphatic victory gives them a lot of breathing room. They would have to lose by an impossible sounding 5-0 to snatch defeat from the jaws of qualification. Stranger things have happened yes but given the caliber of players Kwesi Appiah will choose from, there should be no fairytale for the Pharoes.

The fan in me says emphatically, there is absolutely no way this will happen but journalistic training requires a deeper reflection. Could it happen? Men can be turned to women, eclipses occur from time to time,  so never say never. What could make the Stars suffer such a nightmare? Refereeing, bad play, the sky falling down, the 30,000 fans threatening the Stars with their lives if they don’t allow the Egyptians to score and oh Armageddon.

Barring any combination of these things, we should begin our crash Portuguese course, pack our bags, and wait for June/July 2014 where the Black Stars will attempt to shine for the third World Cup in a row.

Missing Link Forces Ayews to the Sidelines

All is not well between the Ayew brothers and Black Stars management

All is not well between the Ayew brothers and Black Stars management

Marseille stars Andre Ayew and his brother Jordan have temporarily taken a break from the senior national team, the Black Stars. In two separate letters signed by Andre and Jordan, they outlined various reasons why they need the time off.

As is typical of such events, the immediate reaction is to question the patriotism of the players. Next is to point out how selfish they are, a sentiment punctuated by saying ‘we don’t need them’, ‘they should go’ and so on. As far as I am concerned many of the reactions are emotional and prevent us from seeing the real issues. It’s like the jilted womaniser whose selective amnesia prevents him from acknowledging how his ways have forced his girlfriend to the sidelines.

From the moment Jordan Ayew joined his brother in the Black Stars, it was inevitable that they would be inextricably linked. In the minds of Ghanaians they are identical if not siamese twins. Yet, both players must be looked at differently.

Jordan Ayew was not even invited to the pre-tournament camp with coach Appiah saying he was dropped for ‘footballing reasons‘. For Marseille’s player of the month for November 2012, this was apparently too hard to take causing some psychological trauma.

Many tried to read meaning into Jordan’s exclusion including that Appiah wanted to break up the duo. The reality is that while Jordan’s form has been good for his club he hasn’t quite translated that to club form so perhaps that was excusable. From his letter, it is clear Jordan is saying that he hasn’t been played in a position suitable to replicate that form. In his words, “The reason is that in the position for which my services are required for the national team, I have been ranked way behind several players as not to merit a place in the team on occasions when it mattered.”

Andre Ayew was dropped from the final list of players for the just-held African Cup of Nations by coach Kwesi Appiah effectively because Appiah could not wait for the player to arrive a day or two before the list was submitted. For Appiah it was too great a risk. He would have missed most of the team’s training camp in Abu Dhabi and ultimately Appiah felt that he had good enough replacements. The player had asked for more time to be treated for a hamstring injury by his club doctors who I presume he trusts more than the doctors in Ghana’s camp.  Ayew had allegedly missed previous deadlines given him.

Any professional athlete will tell you that hamstring and groin injuries are some of the most delicate injures to treat. A failure to undergo the right treatment and it can easily become a protracted one. This is the same Ayew who had previously played for Ghana in the 2012 Afcon with a persistent shoulder injury. Some readers might remember him writhing in pain and having his shoulder popped back twice in the game against Guinea.  He shook it off and finished the tournament. Ayew eventually had surgery on that shoulder in March which ended his season prematurely and kept him on the sidelines for three months. The start of this current season was thus difficult for him as he struggled to regain his form. It was that form he brought to play in a few Black Stars matches towards  the end of the year and getting substituted which left him angry.

Andre has undoubtedly been one of Ghana’s most impressive Ghanaian players since 2010. He has impressed with skill but mostly with spirit and determination. He has his frustrating moments when he holds on to the ball longer than he should but he more than makes up for that with his zeal. He is in short, a fighter.

By taking leave, he and his brother who also has a combative (sometimes petulant) streak are doing what they know best. They are fighting a system that took away an opportunity to represent their nation on the biggest African stage. They’ve decided to take on a management whose attitude appears to be that without them the players cannot function or that good to great players can simply be replaced willy nilly.

That attitude is not surprising given that these are the same management team members who justified their taking identical winning bonuses to  players for the 2013 Afcon. We’re increasingly living in a warped Ghanaian world where a sense of entitlement has overtaken one of sacrifice – where elected members of parliament (MPs) view public service as an opportunity to lord it over others rather than serve.

It is an opportunity to claim emoluments rather than make substantial and meaningful changes to the lives of the people who elected them.

So is it any wonder that football administrators see themselves as being as high in the pecking order as the players who sweat, break their backs and sometimes get injured without the necessary protections that professional clubs in Europe provide?

Unless FA officials change their posture and recognize that it is players who play the game and make them look good or bad, this ‘temporary retirement’ gimmick will routinely be used by players as a way of lifting their fists up high in protest whenever they feel victimized.  Or worse, they might shift from deuces to middle finger in the air, Chris Brown style, making the Black Stars a collection of players available rather than the best players Ghana has to offer.

Indeed the Ayews ‘temporary retirement’ as Dede points out continues a trend traceable to other Stars like Michael Essien, KP Boateng and Asamoah Gyan, though the crucial difference is that the earlier cases were precipitated by injury, stress etc rather than FA management decisions .  Credit is of course due the FA for keeping an open door policy which helps ensure that the retirements are in the end truly temporary (eg Asamoah Gyan).  The Ayews’ move  however raises the stakes significantly.

Such heightened stakes could compel the FA members  and team management to make decisions based on principle rather than on a sense of position and power. Ultimately though both players and management have to agree to be more flexible with their different stances always with the progress of the team and interest of the nation in mind.

Too Close for Comfort

Goalkeeper Dauda earned his keep

Goalkeeper Dauda earned his keep against Cape Verde

The Black Stars gave a befuddling performance against Cape Verde’s Blue Sharks as they reached the semi finals for the fourth successive time. Despite the 2-0 win, many Ghanaians’ relief is tempered by a reintroduction of doubt about this team. Having appeared to turn the corner with a stellar 3-0 win against Niger, the Stars reverted to their first game’s form against the Sharks.

Defensively, they seemed confused and were not communicating with each other while offensively they lacked ideas. Ultimately, it might have been experience and luck that carried us through.

When the Black Stars are mentally locked in a game it is easy to tell. Their body language and their actions on the pitch speak louder than anything they say off it. Even though the party line was that they respected Cape Verde and what they could on the pitch, for me their attitude on the pitch showed complacency.

This game against the Blue Sharks is further evidence that these Black Stars will go as far as Captain Asamoah Gyan takes them. When he is engaged, lively and into the matches, the Black Stars are a different team. When he is passive, going through the motions and unfocused, the Black Stars will follow that lead.

Against Niger, Gyan was clearly out to prove something. He was hungry. He was determined. He would not take no for an answer. He was harassing the Nigerian defenders throughout his time on the field and he was lethal. It reminded me of his 2010 World Cup performances in South Africa. Fast forward to the match against Cape Verde and beyond winning the penalty his contribution was minimal.

His attitude translates into how any tactics are applied on the pitch. Defensively and offensively, Gyan is the point person. When he is out of position defensively, play breaks down behind him with passing channels opening up for the opposition like the red sea. Cue Cape Verdean players playing like they had a man advantage against Ghana in the second half.

When Gyan is showing for passes and playing one twos with his midfielders, Ghana has more attacking options and inevitably create more chances. Against Cape Verde, the quick interplay was absent leading to fewer chances. As a result, our midfielders like Kwadwo Asamoah, Christian Atsu and Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu were non-factors.

Cape Verde were always going to come out and make the game difficult for Ghana by putting men behind the ball. The surprise was how quickly they transitioned into attack. They were menacing at various moments during the first half and on countless occasions in the second. With more assurance and self belief they would have shocked us.

Despite Cape Verdean ability on the day, the Stars did not make the mental adjustments necessary throughout the game. A coach can offer a game plan for different scenarios and tactics but if the players don’t apply themselves there is little a coach can do.

POSITIVES

There were a few positives in this match. Fatau Dauda was spectacular. His game still needs polishing but his shot stopping ability is in no doubt. He might be modest but there has been nothing understated about his contribution to Ghana’s tournament thusfar. He has literally kept us in the tournament. At 2-2 against DR Congo, he had a stellar save to preserve the draw. Against Cape Verde, flying across the goal and saving with his left hand must be the save of the tournament.  Penalty kick taker, Mubarak Wakaso’s contribution has been clear. He is now joint leading goalscorer after scoring the brace for Ghana. He has arguably been Ghana’s most consistent player in the tournament so far and we hope it continues. That

We are now in the higher stakes part of the competition and the players will have to bring a more consistent energy and focus to their play. Otherwise, our hopes of bringing back the cup will stay in La La land. To that end, having an extra day than they had for the quarter finals to prepare for the semi finals should reinvigorate them.

NO MENAS

Ghana's Christian Atsu scores the second goal against Niger

Christian Atsu 23rd minute strike put Ghana in the driver’s seat

Heading into this game the Black Stars had adopted  the line that this would be the toughest group game. It might well have been had the Nigerians’ goal stood. As it turned out, that disallowed goal melted away any ambition they had.  They were no menace to the Black Stars ambitions of advancing.

Ghana picked a good time to play its best in the tournament. Goals from a revived Asamoah Gyan and Christian Atsu saw the Stars take a 2-0 half time lead. John Boye made it an emphatic win with a scrambled in goal after Gyan’s header was spilled by the Nigerian keeper.

Atsu was officially the man of the match but for me Gyan was the man of the hour. Ahead of the Niger game, there was mounting criticism of his play with some suggesting he should be benched for Emmanuel Clottey. Maligned in one breath, he is deeply appreciated in Kwesi Appiah’s breath. Just as well Appiah remains the coach. Gyan scored with a decisive perhaps angry finish, he assisted on the second and caused the third. His work rate for the 75 minutes he was on the pitch was good. He was aggressive, demonstrative and seemed really into the game. It is my theory that Gyan sometimes needs the prodding that the criticism brings to find his best form. He always manages to silence Ghanaians when his back is against the wall and when criticism is at its highest.

While pressure brings out the best in some, the Afcon stage brought out the fright in youngster Atsu. He is slowly adjusting to the bright lights though like an iris in a dark room.  When he is on his game, he puts so much pressure on a defense. On his goal, he waited until the last moment before passing the ball to Gyan on the left flank. That delay pulled three defenders to Gyan. Atsu’s sudden dash into the box left the defenders for dead. His finish was calm and clinical. That one play summed up why there is so much hope for him. If he can harness the skills, speed and tenacity he showed in this game and produce it every game, Ghana will have discovered that kind of midfield threat we haven’t seen since Abedi Pele. Abedi and now Messi (a player Atsu is being likened to) however play defense and that is a part of his game he will have to develop to reach a World Class level.

Still, he has given coach Appiah a welcome headache as to what to do if Mubarak Wakaso is eligible for the quarter final against Cape Verde. Until then, Ghana is riding high off its most impressive performance to date.

FLASHBACK!

Wakaso's gesture earns him a match ban

Wakaso’s gesture earns him a match ban

Ghana’s much needed win over Mali represents a triumph of a collective will and determination over style. Mubarak Wakaso’s 38th minute penalty lifted the Ghanaians over the Malians in an Afcon group game for the second year running.

Coach Kwesi Appiah made a few changes to start this game, moving Kwadwo Asamoah into a midfield role and putting Harrison Afful at left back. Blonde-haired Isaac Vorsah returned to the starting lineup ahead of Jerry Akaminko while Rabiu Mohammed came in for Derek Boateng.

The changes worked in restoring balance to the side. All these players slotted in to their natural positions and allowed Appiah to set up the team in a more compact way, a recognition of our defensive weaknesses in the first game. Further, Appiah had decided that Mali’s main threat was Seydou Keita and packed the midfield to counter his threat. Talk about cutting off the head of the snake and cutting off supply to the Malian forwards. It worked as Mali resorted to long balls that the central defenders dealt with relatively comfortably. Vorsah’s contribution was hard to ignore as long ball after long ball was met with blond plaits.

Aesthetically, neither his hairstyle or the way the Stars played was pleasing but given the result, it was a good strategic adjustment, which harkened back to the days of Milovan Rajevac’s famed one goal project. Perhaps this is a belated acknowledgment by Appiah of one of his former bosses tactics.

Appiah has also found in Albert Adomah and Mubarak Wakaso, player with pace who can provide width on the flanks. Adomah especially is willing to attack and defend and has provided some telling crosses into the box for forwards to run onto. Unfortunately for Wakaso and Adomah, our forwards have been a tad late on some of those crosses but the threat is still important.

In the end though, it is the three points that mattered. Ghana sits atop the table with four points with a final group game against tricky Niger to come. More importantly, Appiah and his troops get a first Afcon 2013 win and now they can build their confidence and relax and play a more well rounded game.

Stars Settle for a Draw

James Kwesi Appiah off to an inauspicious start

James Kwesi Appiah off to an inauspicious start

Ghana’s Black Stars got off to a shaky start, Sunday, in their 2013 African Cup of Nations Group B opener against Democratic Republic of Congo.  Memories of our 2-0 lead will quickly make way for second-guessing Coach James Appiah’s selection and substitutions. By the way, why the sudden reference to Appiah as James? Isn’t it ironic that a coach appointed on the back of a nationalistic, pan Africanist fervor is now being referred to by his ‘English’ name? It has always been Kwesi Appiah aka Akwasi in my book. But let’s not digress.

Some will point to Andre Ayew’s exclusion as a reason why we didn’t win yesterday. After all, seeing him on the score sheet for his club, Marseille over the weekend was only going to fuel conspiracy theorists who insist that he was dropped for reasons other than injury. I disagree with those that think Andre’s inclusion would necessarily have won the game.

The defensive discipline and organization that the Black Stars exhibited during Milovan Rajevac’s tenure is no more.  The decline begun under Goran Stevanovic and Kwesi Appiah has yet to stem it. In our last friendly before the tournament against Tunisia, there were signs of defensive frailty and confusion.

Defensive mistakes are the biggest reason why we didn’t win yesterday. Prior to the game, I tweeted my concern about our back four because they had not played together as a unit in a competitive match. Defense is probably the most complicated position on the pitch to play as it takes familiarity with one another to prevent elementary mistakes. Building defensive team discipline however is a team effort that starts the moment a team loses the ball. In the first half, we did not do a good job of keeping the ball let alone reacting alertly when we lost it.

Defensive ability also has to do with the personnel on the pitch. That we have not solved our left back problem is glaring.

Twenty minutes in, it was obvious that Claude Leroy had dedicated the match to exposing Kwadwo Asamoah as a left back. Wave after wave of Congolese attack was launched from Asamoah’s end. He fought off some but was inadequate on others. As the saying goes, you can put lipstick on a pig but it will remain a pig. His instinct is not one of a defender. Asamoah is good defensively when he is deployed as a midfielder. He tracks back well, true to his Italian education. Make him an out and out defender and he is not as convincing. Kwesi Appiah describes him as a ‘utility player’ but he is no Sam ‘Foyoo’ Johnson, Ghana’s last able ‘utility player’.

FOOL’s GOLD

The Congolese used the attack the left back as though your lives depended on it approach to create a few clear-cut chances in the first half hour of the match. They, rather than Ghana, could easily have been up 2-0. Lomano Lua Lua hit a shot that goalkeeper Abdul Dauda Fatawu parried onto the crossbar. From an almost identical move, Mbokani skied a shot. Congo was threatening.

Ghana had their chances too. Derek Boateng played through Asamoah Gyan but with only the keeper to beat, Gyan dragged the ball wide. Cue the unnecessary abuse from Ghanaians on my timeline. That spurned chance was a microcosm of Gyan’s play throughout the match. He lacked sharpness and despite 150 percent effort, he seemed unable to do what his mind was willing his body to do. The fact that we were up 2-0 and could easily have gone on to win should not hide the fact that we could easily have been down by the same margin.

OPEN GAME

Both sides created numerous chances, an indication of what an open game it was. Yet, it was somewhat against the run of play that Ghana scored. Asamoah made a deep run, played a one two with Emmanuel Agyemang Badu and served up a tap in for Badu to score just before the half. Dagger.

The second half starts, Ghana get a corner shortly after recess and that midfielder, erm defender Asamoah again pops up with a header off the bottom of the crossbar. GOAALLLL!!! 2-0 Ghana. Surely, we are going to pull a rabbit out of the hat.

Except, Congo continued playing as though nothing had happened and they knew they would score at a moment’s notice. Man of the match Tresor Mputu showed how valuable he was to the Congolese team with a slick run that confounded Jerry Akaminko. He finished with what famed broadcaster Kwabena Yeboah would likely term, aplomb!!! I simply slouched in my chair, uttered ‘damn’ and asked silently, ‘are we really going to blow this lead’?

We did. Akaminko again. Turned into pretzel knots, he fouled Mbokani inside the box. ‘A pe’. ‘Panalty’. ‘Penalty’. Call it what you want. Dieumerci stepped up and accepted the decision from referee Bennett. Fatawu had no chance.

2-2. Now, was one of these teams going to win? No. Both teams created more chances but Dauda and his Congolese counterpart Robert Kidiaba made important saves.

The result left Congo walking tall and Ghanaians shaking their heads in collective frustration. Our next match is against Mali on Thursday so there is enough time to work on our defensive mistakes. We better because Mali is not going to prove any easier than DR Congo.

 

LIGHTS OUT!!!

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Ghana played ‘lights out’ and emphatically dispatched the Crocodiles of Lesotho Friday night in Kumasi. Yet, the story on the lips of everyone was the interruption of the match 15 minutes into the second half. Ghana led 4-0 at the time with Dominic Adiyiah’s two goals complimented by Sulley Muntari and Jordan Ayew’s first half strikes.

The stadium continued to grow dark until the referee called the players and suspended the match. For once, the almost hour and a half long break in transmission was not the fault of the State broadcaster, GTV. The Electricity Company of Ghana (ECG) was being roundly chastised as it became clear that the floodlights at the stadium failed to come on. After denials from ECG spokespersons, the blame game reached the steps of the National Sports Authority, the body in charge of maintaining stadia in the country.

Rather than talking about the fluid passing display of the Stars on the day or the ability of our officials to step up and take responsibility, Ghanaians all over the World were reduced to talking about our “pass the buck” attitude. It was shameful and embarrassing to say the least. Hopefully, after some thorough investigations rather than knee jerk utterances by people in authority, those responsible for our shame and embarrassment will be held accountable. Don’t count on it though.

The lights were eventually fixed and the fans who kept faith at the stadium were rewarded when the game resumed. As disappointed as we all were, it did not translate to an emotional letdown on the pitch. The Stars were professional and there was no noticeable dropoff in focus and play. They simply continued to punch away at the Crocodiles’ resistance and faster than you can say BLACK OUT!!! they had added three more.

Christian Atsu, Ayew and Jerry Akaminko all scored to make it a resoundingly comfortable victory.

First competitive match as head coach for Kwesi Appiah and he passed it with flying red, gold, greens. Early days yet and he is sure to face stiffer opposition. How will his tactics evolve when faced with adversity?

We may not have long to wait. Zambia is next.

MUSINGS

  1. Christian Atsu was one debutante who caught the eye. One game does not a Messi make but if Atsu maintains what we saw he could be Ghana’s next big star. He has pace, is skilled with a sweet left foot that goes for goal.
  2. Jerry Akaminko’s goal will give him confidence but he was largely unchallenged. On the few occasions he was challenged, he was more a battering ram than a polished defender. He was lucky to escape punishment.
  3. Harrison Afful was good on the overlap but again, he was not tested in his primary duties as a defender so it is hard to say that his introduction to the Stars has solved our left back issues.
  4. Jordan Ayew continues to grow as an attacker on the national team. His brother Dede’s absence meant he was not playing in anyone’s shadow. His two goals were well deserved and showed some composure that he lacked on occasion at the Nations Cup.
  5. Is it just me or was there too much irony in the air yesterday? From a Generator Company’s sponsorship of the telecast to the almost instantaneous ridicule and condemnation of ECG when for once they might not have been at fault to the ignominy of the score line ‘L-E-S-O-T-H-O’ it was all too much to bear.

ALL HAIL NEW BLACK STARS COACH

Soft-spoken Kwasi Appiah met the press Tuesday in a formal unveiling as Black Stars coach. The scene was a stark contrast from weeks back when there was open hostility to Goran Stevanovic. There was a celebratory air to it this time as journalists patiently waited their turn and respectfully asked questions.

After all, they finally got their man; a Ghanaian to coach the Stars after countless foreign hires including a consecutive trio of Serbians.

To some, this appointment was long overdue. Over the last decade, the chorus has grown louder for a Ghanaian coach every time a vacancy opened. Many have put forth a rigid nationalistic view. A national team for Ghanaians must be coached by a Ghanaian. The assumption as I see it in the minds of these voices is that a Ghanaian will understand and give more importance to the Black Stars because he feels and lives the need to be successful that the passionate fan does. Also, a Ghanaian is more apt to understand the psyche of the Ghanaian player. The foreign coaches somehow appear too detached from the team to make the right decisions in critical moments. All this is compounded when you hear of their pay and benefits. Stevanovic made this impression worse with his constant absence from the country and more specific to his job, local league centers.

There is no question Appiah has paid his dues after serving as assistant to multiple expatriates and deserves as much support as he needs. His success over the two year duration of his contract will represent a success for the whole country.

He sat next to Stevanovic at the press conference after the Cup of Nations when some journalists forgot their professional responsibilities and lost their composure. This episode meant he need not go as far back as his playing days as captain to be reminded of how quickly Ghanaians can turn when the results don’t go right.

The current fragility of the Black Stars what with reports of disunity, black magic used to injure fellow teammates etc has been laid squarely at the feet of Stevanovic’s lack of good management. Appiah has that, his nationality and a schedule that has us playing against Lesotho next to thank for the unison nature of support thusfar. A positive result in the June fixture and he’ll be on his way to justifying his appointment.

He is now the unquestioned boss and it is only results, not his nationality or the color of his skin that will matter in judging him.

Surely, he wouldn’t want it any other way.

OUT OF TOUCH?

Under-fire Ghana coach says his hands are in the hands of the FA

A year ago, Goran Stevanovic walked into the Ghana Football Association press room a confident man flanked by members of the Association. An assured Kwesi Nyantekyi introduced our next Serbian miracle worker. Stevanovic seemed affable, spoke English (halting but he promised to improve), and brashly proclaimed he was here to get Ghana over the hump. He wanted to end the country’s 30-year drought. He said all the right things about Ghana having plenty talent and the right mix of players. He was eager to surpass his Serbian predecessors. Ghanaians hung onto his words like they do to those of a priest on Sunday espousing the prosperity doctrine.

We had been to the final of the African Cup of Nations and the quarter finals of the World Cup the previous year so there was evidence that he could. We all could envision the kind of lift a Cup would bring. We needed to believe him. It was our escape and it became our obsession particularly as some traditional giants failed to even get to the CAN.

Fast forward a year and the scene could not be any more different. Fresh off the failure in Gabon/Equatorial Guinea, here Plavi was leaning on assistant Kwasi Appiah like he was a crutch; Appiah suddenly turning interpreter for some questions. A once triumphant Nyantekyi also seemed subdued, resigned to a coach’s demise.

An already tense room became inflamed at the suggestion by the coach that he didn’t promise to resign if the Black Stars didn’t bring the Cup back. To be fair, listening to the clip he has a point. No matter. A coach with two losses over 18 matches has his head on the chopping block.

Before that, the GFA announced they were deferring the decision on the coach for two weeks pending consultation with its legal team. This was hardly a vote of confidence. In between there were apologies by the coach and the FA to Ghanaians for the team’s failure.

It’s been two weeks since Ghana exited the Cup of Nations. Fourteen days to let people’s emotions simmer down and reasoned judgments about the team take over. If Ghanaian journalists represent the mood of the country, then we are really, really MAD. We are angry at not winning the 2012 cup.We are upset about seemingly empty promises, and perhaps most of all, we are insulted because we feel we’re being lied to. But why are we so mad?

What happened between his appointment and now for there to be such open hostility towards him. There were shouts of ‘tsssooooo boooiiii’ at one stage as if one were going to war. Where did the negative feelings emanate from?

MODESTY

It has to do with the increasing cynicism that permeates many aspects of our society. It is manifested especially towards people in authority and intensifies as the reliable supply of basic amenities like water and electricity elude many. Football had all this while been our refuge, the place where we go to see Ghanaians excel, our center for excellence.

Plavi promised like an African politician and failed like one. His apology to the public seemed like someone saying what he wanted us to hear and it made us mad.

Despite criticisms of negative tactics, Milovan Rajevac endeared himself to Ghanaians. He was modest in everything he did. Rajevac lived here and his preference for track suits suggested a plain manner. He seemed shy, humble, he under promised and over delivered. He related to his players well and did not seem vindictive giving players like Sulley Muntari second chances when they acted out of turn.

Alhaji Grunsah may have stolen the show when he took the floor and pleaded with the coach to stay in Ghana. As only he could, he said, ‘when you’re an employee of UTC, you don’t spend more time at GNTC.’ He implored Plavi to spend more time in Ghana and work for the Ghanaian people. Visit local league centers, scout players, unearth talent was the cry.

If Plavi stays, which looks increasingly unlikely, he’ll do well to heed Grunsah’s advice for it’ll allow him to learn more about our football the culture in which it is played and the people who live by it. That knowledge will go a long way to inform his tactics and prevent him frombeing out of touch.

GAME TIME

You know what time it is (in my Sarkodie Obidi voice)!!!

On a day like this, can any Ghanaian’s focus be on anything but the Black Stars? I went to bed with the game on my mind and woke up in a similar state. I might be more fanatical than most but it’s not unusual for non-football fans to be roped in when the stakes become so high. It’s the semi-finals of the African Cup of Nations and at this stage, it is becoming less about sport and more about national pride.

So whether it is through hardworking farmers,  emissary entertainers or officials the Black Stars will know that the entire nation is rooting for them. And praying for them.

The prayers haven’t worked for Emmanuel Agyemang Badu, a knee injury ruling him out. It is uncertain who takes his place and whether that player can offer anything close to Badu’s dynamism. No one said this journey would be easy though and at every stage the Stars have had to overcome one obstacle or another. From a red card to injuries, to outright thuggish tactics the Stars are here because of a will to win and an unceasing focus on the task at hand – to end Ghana’s 30 year drought.

The ‘Chipolopolo’ have sentimental reasons as well for wanting to advance to the final. Outside of not having won the cup before, they are keen to honor the memory of players lost in a plane crash.

There is all to play for then. A place in the finals, chance to erase memories of futility, and opportunities to please fellow citizens the World over.

Will the Stars clear another hurdle? Stay Tuned.