Black Satellites Dominate Namibia

 

Captain Mahatma Otoo was one of several imposing Black Stars players

 

Ghana’s Under-20 team, the Black Satellites began their quest to repeat as champions of Africa and the World Sunday against the Young Warriors of Namibia in winning fashion. After 90 minutes, the Ghanaians had put four past Namibia without reply and have ultimately taken command of the tie. The return leg is in two weeks.

Watching the game yesterday, you got the impression that it was a men vs boys encounter or as legendary Ghanaian boxer Azumah “Zoom Zoom” Nelson once said after his fight against Jeff Fenech, a father-son affair. 

The Ghanaians were clearly bigger, stronger, taller and faster. Put it simply, I would not want to be caught in an alley fight with any of them. But despite these clear advantages and the score, it was far from a convincing performance on a number of levels. The Satellites often looked disjointed and after going 2-0 up early on in the game looked disinterested. Truth be told, it seems like a tendency in our teams to go through sustained lulls when we have the upper hand. With the fans urging them on to make their advantages clear, they stumbled into the second half before winning comfortably. 

When watching a game like this I like to think of the future. Many of these players have listed ages at just under 20. In four years, a few of them should logically be graduating to the senior team. So, I ask myself which players in these youth teams could make the leap to the Black Stars immediately. Which ones should we look out for as we build towards the next world cup. Which players can give some of the senior members a run for their money and make a case for selection when the qualifiers for the 2012 African Cup of Nations starts in a couple of months? Who would have caught the eye of Milovan Rajevac for what I consider his need positions moving forward; striker, left back, central defense and goalkeeper. 

No one caught my eye in this regard. The forwards had poor first touches and their link up play with midfielders was awful. The left back Francis Morton and central defenders led by Karim Alhassan seemed capable but were rarely tested. Based on the one game sample size, this may be a harsh assessment. The team may continue to jell and produce more convincing performances against more credible opposition. Having said that, two players who caught my eye were two central midfielders, James Bissue and Richmond Boakye Yiadom. Unfortunately, they are not strikers and it is hard to see them breaking into the senior team with the caliber of midfielders we have. 

ONE LAST POINT

I am not as familiar with this team as teams past but picking up on conversations in the stands and with further research, many of the players belong to Ghana’s premier league clubs. This begs the question of what the youth academies like Feyenoord, Red Bull are doing in feeding these youth teams. But that’s for another day.

Back Home With Mixed Feelings

 

It is home sweet home for Dede and his colleagues. But they'd probably rather be in a Cape Town hotel than sleeping in their own beds

 

It is tough to write about the Black Stars arrival on the same day Uruguay is playing against the Netherlands in the semi-finals. I cannot help but feel that instead of Accra, I should be in Cape Town, having packed my bags and heading to the stadium. It stirs up all those what if questions and emotions. 

But let’s dwell on what destiny has presented us with. As quarter-finalists, we have the honor of being considered one of the eight best teams in the world. Given the uncertainty with which we entered the competition, that is indeed an honor and we should not discount it. Also, you always like to see improvement from one campaign to another. We improved the results from the 2006 Germany campaign and that is commendable as well. 

Also the future looks bright. Stephen Appiah said yesterday after a rousing welcome accorded the players and officials at the Kotoka International Airport in Accra that though he is not a prophet, he is sure that we will qualify for 2014 in Brazil and we will be there as contenders.  

To that I say Amen. Now, to work to bring it about, so that we do not follow Cameroon or Senegal in fading out after reaching the quarter-finals. The players are scheduled to go on a float this morning and are set to meet the President of Ghana, John Atta Mills at a reception in their honor. 

I tweeted throughout their arrival and my tweets can be seen on twitter.com/blackstarsfan.

Heartbreak City

Anger. Hurt. Sadness. Tears. Confusion. Loneliness. Depression. Cursed. Heartbreak. Feelings. You work sometimes to contain them telling yourself anything can happen. We could win, we could lose. Uruguay after all is a strong team. But so are we. So it could go anyway. You inoculate yourself from bad news by saying it is still an achievement that you have gotten to the quarter-finals. And yet when anything and everything happens like it did in this game you are left totally unprepared. Numb. In shock. Pained. Bewildered. Questions.  

The beautiful game? Try the tragicomic one. The header, handball, the goal. Or not. The penalty and red card. Joy. It’s finally here. Ghana is into the semi-finals for the first time representing an expectant continent. But for the small issue of the kick. The sounds of vuvuzelas rise as one and no one sits. The run up, the kick. Oh, THE KICK. What just happened? It hit the bar and flew up? On the last kick of the game in extra time with a chance to win!!! Head in hands. Clothes are pulled unconsciously. Unbelievable. Cruel. A sick joke. It is replayed over and over again. In your mind, at home on tv, in the bars after the game. It just does not make sense. Noooooooo. Play it one more time. A rueful smile accompanied by a head shake and a brave face. 

But then out there in the distance a couple of days away perhaps is Hope. Pride. Appreciation. Joy. The very things that make you watch every time your favorite team or your country is playing. You swear off the game for a while but like a drug it pulls you in. Slowly. It starts with a glance. Then a full half. You realize it is not so bad. It is actually enjoyable. And those losses? Never mind, you are one game away from a win. 

Selective amnesia sets in. We made the continent proud. Our boys played like a team. They gave it their all. The penalty kicks? What penalty kicks? What more can you ask of from a team without arguably its best player Michael Essien? You remember Sulley’s goal, Kevin Prince Boateng’s enthusiastic and determined runs and deft touches, Asamoah Gyan, yes Asamoah Gyan’s crucial winning goal against the US, Dede Ayew’s excellence, Anthony Annan’s ball sense, Jonathan Mensah’s promise, Hans Adu-Sarpei’s steadiness,the team’s spirit and stirring performances.

And then the dreaming starts. 2014? Sure banker.

Good Friday?

 

Perhaps Ghana can borrow Maradona's good luck charm, Messi and the object he always holds. Photo Credit: Getty Images

 

Anytime you invoke a religious symbol in describing a game, you are asking to be called blasphemous. Of course, when the religion is football, with hundreds of millions of disciples and no dogma, you have leeway. The symbols cannot be violated. A football (leather is nice but rolled up socks or anything round you can improvise with will do), white lines (it does not have to be white paint; shoes, cloth, anything to serve as a marker would be perfect), a field (does not have to be grassy, it can be concrete, clay, whatever is available), 22 men or women (again, there are many variations, from one v one to six a side, to whole villages divided). You want to play two 45 minute halves? Knock yourself out. But don’t worry if you can only last 15. You can take a break and continue later. Or you can play one looooong game. And oh, last but not the least, the goal posts. If you want three dimensional, you can have it but it is not a must. Again, shoes, stones, lines in the sand will work.   

Ahhhh, if only life were that simple. Ghana’s Black Stars take to the field this evening in a game that is going to keep an entire continent glued to televisions. Yes, if you haven’t heard by now, it is serious business. If you ever wanted an express lane in any major African city, this may be the night because streets will be empty for at least 90 minutes. Why you would want to be driving for those 90 minutes beats me but to each his own I guess.  

A win sends the Black Stars’ disciples into delirium. A loss, appreciation for getting this far. A win would be continued redemption for all the African teams that were knocked out. A loss, a chance to pray for more blessings down the road. 2014 maybe? Knocking out Uruguay would be sweet. Ghana would be the first African team in the semi-finals and to do it on African soil! A Movie director’s dream. A win and we get to continue hearing how much Africa has embraced the Black Stars. Sigh. A blessing or a curse? The spotlight’s nice so hey I’ll take the good press. A loss and we get back to stories of disorganization and failures. Goodluck, where art thou?

Tonight’s game feels right. It feels good. To borrow Phil Collins lines, “I can feel it, coming in the air tonight, Oh LAAWWDDD!!!” Of course, the last time an analyst who clearly favored Portugal went with his feelings he discovered that his had been misled. Feelings have a way of doing that to you.

Tonight’s game will be tough. If it is pre-ordained by the soccer gods, surely Ghana comes through. If the gods decide that the Brazil-Netherlands game is more exciting and they take the night off, then it is each man for himself. Two equally matched teams will take the field tonight, play a cagey match with each probing for that one chance to seal the game. I see one goal in this, two tops. 

Go Black Stars.

IF MUSIC BE FOOD…

 

The Ghana team drumming, singing and dancing yesterday at team hotel

Ghana's Black Stars keep their spirits up by singing and dancing in video via James Pearce. Link is below.

 

Ghana team singing and dancing in Hotel

With the absence of any football yesterday, the day was slow and I was in a restless mood. If I was feeling this way, I wondered what six weeks at a tournament would be doing to my Black Stars. Surely, with so much downtime, they would be bored stiff. But then late on in the evening, the video above hit my twitter feed. I have watched that video at least twenty times and will continue to watch it until our match. In fact, I think anytime I am feeling down, I will watch it. The players are singing Christian songs typically sung in churches across Ghana on Sundays and would be familiar to many Ghanaians. It is not unusual for many members of the Black Stars to openly give praise to God before and after a match. Clearly, the appreciation for these songs is not limited to the Christian players as even the muslims in the squad can be seen singing heartily. 

But it got me thinking about music in general and how much it has played a part in this world cup. From the release and popularity of world cup songs, “waka waka,” and  “waving flag” to less well known songs, it is obvious that music increasingly plays a big role in the marketing success of the competition. From the Ghanaian perspective, it is good for maintaining team spirit. So I scoured the internet and found a few songs that could make up the unofficial world cup track list. 

Let’s start with the Brazilians. The Brazilians have always been a musical people and their national teams have become known as the “Samba Boys,” a likening of their improvisational, rhythmic way of playing to their music. Athletic shoe company Nike even capitalized on that aspect in their ads on the team. Here is one such enjoyable and playful ad. I also came across this funky song that is about Kaka, the Brazilian world cup star. It is in Portuguese and even though I don’t understand it I certainly get the countless references to Kaka. Don’t we all love our football heroes? Besides, it’s an uptempo song and who doesn’t like uptempo for a world cup song. 

Speaking of uptempo song, who does not like Nana Boroo’s song “Aha ye de?” That song is “brutal (meaning enjoyable)” as some in Ghana would say. It has nothing to do with the Black Stars but I dare anyone to say it doesn’t express the mood in Ghana after a win. It probably expresses the mood now in anticipation of the match tomorrow. Watch the video below. 

But back to my beloved Black Stars. Ghanaian artists have always had a love affair with the team and put into song their admiration for their team. From rap songs to highlife to hiplife, the songs just keep coming. Richy Pitch and M.anifest who performed in Paris at a pre-tournament gig organized by Puma for the African teams take you through the streets of Accra in explaining what it means to be a Black Star. The video is below. Look out for the pilolo reference, the image of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah who named Ghana’s team and other references. 

Also, UK-based rapper Sway released the song below as an appreciation for his fans. References to Gh massive confirm his Ghanaian roots. Check out the line, ‘football, running, boom.’ It was apparently Tony Yeboah’s response to the question, how did you score the goal? Also, check out Quincy Owusu Abeyie reference. He is in the current Black Stars team. This song is genius.”The only nation that can make a conversation out of phrases,  ‘Ah, Ehe Oh, Aye!'” Check it out. 

Wanlov the Kubolor and Mensa also have a song urging our boys to keep scoring more goals. And how could I argue with that?

A group of Ghanaian artists also have a song, Oseiye which speaks to Black Stars success. The All Stars features Samini, Obrafour who we interviewed here before the tournament began among others. Their video is below. 

Puma has also used that Ghanaian spirit you see in the link above in a video promo of the Ghanaian team. Look out for Anthony Annan’s moves in that one. 

There are tons of world cup songs out there and this list is by no means exhaustive. There are many many from other countries as well and I would love to see them. If there are any out there that deserve special mention, send them to me and they are an update away from making the blog. 

If music be the food of life then play on. Play on we shall to crescendoes unimaginable if the Black Stars win tomorrow against Uruguay.