Ghana’s Black Stars were yesterday drawn against Sudan, Zambia and the winner of a round 1 playoff between Lesotho and Burundi. The presence of Zambia and Sudan means Group D is one of the trickier groups in the Africa Zone. Having qualified twice in a row for the World Cup, Ghana will be tagged as favorites but were they to dare let it get to their heads, they could be shocked. The group phase will mark only the second of three rounds to determine who represents Africa in Brazil. The final round will be a playoff format where the ten group winners will face off. So coming up tops in the group phase will only represent a small feat in the entire scheme of qualifying for Brazil.
It is unclear now whether the group winners will again be put in a draw to decide who plays who. The alternative would be for winner of Group A to play winner of Group B, Group C to play Group D and so on. If this format is adopted, the potential exists for Ghana to face Cote d’ Ivoire in the final round. Now that would be massive!!!
That is getting way ahead of ourselves though. In the last five years, the fortunes of Ghana and Sudan in qualifying for major tournaments have been closely linked. The two teams were put in the same group in the qualifiers for South Africa 2010 and again for the ongoing 2013 Cup of Nations qualifiers. Our record against them has been two wins and one home draw in Kumasi. I saw the home draw live and was impressed with the Sudanese. They had clearly improved and they even had opportunities to win that match especially after Ghana was reduced to ten men. That Kumasi qualifier was odd because you never got the sense that it was about just the game. The atmosphere throughout the game suggested that the fans and the players thought the match would be easy. In addition, the uncertainty surrounding the coaching situation introduced a certain instability that was absent when the Rajevac-led Stars destroyed Swaziland. Even the practices leading up to the game had a certain complacency, a ‘fait-accompli’ surrounding them. The Black Stars had all of a sudden assumed the posture of bullies but the Sudanese had developed some steel the biblical David would have been proud of.
Despite their improvements, the Black Stars’ “A” game should beat Sudan’s A game especially at home. I never count on wins away in Africa as all manner of tricks can be used to unsettle a visiting team. So a win at home and at least a draw against the Sudanese and Zambians would be good results.
A lot could happen between now and next summer when the Black Stars play their first qualifier. Until then, we still have qualifying for the 2013 Cup of Nations and hopefully going on to win it. It’s been too long.