Dede Ayew was in man of the match mode against Mali Photo Credit: Senyuiedzorm Adadevoh

Time and again, when doubters emerge and the critics hit their high notes, Ghana’s Black Stars find ways to be more than the sum of their parts. After a rigid display against Botswana in which they lost their captain John Mensah to a red card, the Stars had something to prove. Given Guinea’s mauling of the Zebras in the earlier match on Saturday, there was arguably more pressure on Ghana to win this game than Mali. A win against Mali and their qualification is virtually academic.

Ghana duly beat Mali 2-0 in a confidence building display. A wonderful freekick by Asamoah Gyan set the Black Stars on their way. Andre Dede Ayew came to the CAN 2012 party with an equally good piece of individual skill and deservedly picked up the man of the match award afterwards.

Now Asamoah Gyan has got back all the confidence he needs. Then again, from his ‘I am great’ comments not that it ever left. The Stars are surely in the driver’s seat, needing only a point in their last match to ensure qualification to the next round. There was a lot to like about this victory not least the goals.

Masahudu Alhassan was a natural fit at left back, bringing more balance to the team. The team’s win should do him a world of good and he’ll gain lots of confidence. On one occasion in the first half, he was cleverly outwitted by some good Malian wing play. He settled down well after that and looked good pushing forward. For a young player starting his first meaningful international match, he slotted in very nicely. Against Guinea however, he’ll likely need extra support from either Dede Ayew or Sulley Muntari.

Kwadwo Asamoah was a delight to watch as he took on the Malian defenders often leaving them for dead. The criticism of Asamoah is that he is not consistent enough when he plays for the Stars. To the extent that he can maintain his performance, the team will be in good stead. He offered the unpredictability that was missing going forward in Ghana’s game against Botswana. Surely, he’s earned his place in the starting line up for the next match.

The determination Dede Ayew showed in scoring his goal was evident throughout the match. Along with Asamoah, he drove the team forward, often earning freekicks in good positions. Gyan’s goal was a result of one such foul.

Unsung heroes were the makeshift pairing of Jonathan Mensah and John Boye for ably protecting Adam Kwarasey’s goal. Anthony ‘Pablo’ Annan, Ghana’s smallest player is often unsung. However, Barcelona player Seydou Keita’s relatively quiet game was a credit to Annan’s outsized talent and Emmanuel Agyemang Badu’s effectiveness along Annan.

Not to be a killjoy but Adam Kwarasey’s performance on set pieces means there is still cause for concern. Kwarasey has shown good reflexes on shots from outside the box in the past but he can’t continue to flap at set pieces. He’ll have to be more decisive in subsequent matches if he is not to be targeted De Gea style.

Looking ahead, Ghana get back Isaac Vorsah and John Mensah for the final group match. Guinea are far from pushovers and Goran Stevanovic will be glad to have his experienced defenders back.  The play of John Boye means that Vorsah might have to wait his turn. Mensah, if fit will be welcome back with open arms. Guinea’s attackers have trickery for days and will be a test for anyone. Yet, even they lose to Guinea, all Ghana have to do is avoid a heavy defeat and they’ll book their spot in the quarter-finals.

Who said anything about losing though? We’re in it to win it.


Captain Fantastic

That was needlessly nerve wracking. Ghana won 1-0 against Botswana on Tuesday but it felt unconvincing, flat and unfulfilling. Thank the heightened expectations for the Black Stars after surprise appearances in the final of the 201o Cup of Nations and World Cup quarter-final.

The overwhelming sentiment from Ghana’s fans after the victory was one of disappointment. As unquestionable favorites, playing against new entrants, the thought was the Black Stars should bury the Zebras in an avalanche. Not to be as their Southern African opponents put up a stiff resistance.

Yet rather than disappointment, I felt it was a very professional, routine non-sexy victory. It is the sort of victory a coach might even delight in. You win and are given a chance to work on your flaws. There might even have been an element of luck but in the end, I felt some relief especially because we played the last 20 minutes down a man. Getting three points to start the competition was most important. Anyone who needs reminding need not look further than our West African neighbors, Senegal who are packing their bags as we speak.

Captain John Mensah led by example, scoring in the 25th minute to put the Stars ahead. He later took one for the team by preventing a clear goal scoring opportunity leading to a red card. The man of the match was John Boye for his general composure but also for his crucial clearance off the line in the second half.

It is telling that for a team that wants to play more attacking football and had most of the possession at one stage of the match, the two most significant people were defenders. That is a testament to how well Botswana defended but also to our lack of creative options up front. In many ways, Botswana defended and played like Ghana did two years ago. Soak up the pressure and hope to hit on the break. It almost worked but for the Stars composure and experience.

Looking ahead, Goran Stevanovic’s insistence on taking nine defenders seems prescient at this point given John Mensah’s suspension and injury. Isaac Vorsah will also miss the next match against Mali meaning Jonathan Mensah will likely step into the starting line up, something he’s done before. Either way it’s a headache Stevanovic would rather not be dealing with despite having brought some reserve.

Of greater concern to me are the changes he made to start the match. Putting Samuel Inkoom at left back for me was head scratching. We have played countless matches leading up to the Afcon. If ‘Plavi’ saw Inkoom as a viable option, why didn’t he try him out in some of the matches so he got familiar with it? I feel the same way about his inclusion of Jordan Ayew. He could have been better integrated along the way.

In midfield, while Sulley Muntari was active but not as effective with his outside shots and incisive passes as one would hope.

There was something missing in the link up play between the midfielders and Asamoah Gyan. Gyan was often isolated because there was too much space between him and the midfield.

In the end, some analysts might downgrade Ghana’s chances of winning the whole shebang. Let them. I believe Ghana will play better as the tournament goes on. This modest victory might also help to recalibrate the fans’ expectations. It might not be the worst thing in the World if views like this filter to the squad. When Ghanaian players see themselves as underdogs, they rise to the occasion. When they see themselves as inevitable winners they tend to become complacent and let their guards down. If we’ve learnt one thing in this tournament so far though, it is ‘take nothing for granted’.


The time for tying up loose ends is over. Can Goran Stevanovic lead his men towards a championship? The journey starts now

The truth is after following Goran Stevanovic for a little over a year, even those close to the team must be struggling to predict his full line up before today’s match against Botswana. If this story is true then this will be the latest in his ever-changing line up. Given that the Stars camp continues to be shrouded in secrecy expect the unexpected.

Nevertheless, the uncertainty from game to game makes his line up the most intriguing thing to look out for. To quote Donald Rumsfeld, there are known unknowns and known knowns. We start with the known knowns. There will be 11 men on the field at the start of the match for Ghana.

Now that we’ve got the obvious out of the way, I can also say any website that puts Isaac Vorsah in a probable line-up can’t have seen Rumsfeld’s memo or they simply didn’t do enough research. He is suspended for two matches.

Adam Kwarasey will be in goal, all things being equal. John Paintsil and John Mensah will join him in defense. In the midfield, Sulley Muntari and Emmanuel Agyemang Badu are certain starters along with Dede Ayew.Asamoah Gyan is likely to lead the attack as all indications are that he has fully recovered from his hamstring woes. Who knew horse placentas were so magical? The question is how match fit is he? The number of minutes he plays will be an indicator of whether he is 100 percent.

Which leads us to the known unknowns. Someone will have to play on the left side of defense. My guess is it’s going to be between Daniel Opare and Masawudu Alhassan. Then again, the earlier link suggests otherwise.

Another of my top things to look out for will be the performance of Adam Kwarasey. This will be Kwarasey’s first major tournament since his call up to the Black Stars. While he has proven himself in friendlies and a few competitive matches, the pre-tournament friendly against South Africa might have provided some cause for concern. He conceded a soft goal early in the match. Has he put that behind him or will his nerves be frayed? Will Ghanaians regret ostracizing Richard ‘Olele’ Kingson?

Who starts in midfield with Agyemang Badu, Muntari and Dede Ayew? The answer depends on what formation Stevanovic starts with. My bet though is on Derek Boateng but some websites suggest Anthony Annan gets the nod.

Also, does Ghana go with two forwards or one? If two, Jordan Ayew will likely join his brother in the starting line up while partnering Baby Jet upfront. If one, Samuel Inkoom might be preferred on the right wing for his speed on the wings and ability to track back defensively. Jordan could still make the starting line up but as a winger.

Speaking of defense, if the game against South Africa is anything to go by then John Boye gets the nod in Vorsah’s place. Regardless of who starts, the sense is Ghanaians are looking forward to a convincing performance by the Stars. As one of my twitter followers put it, “Black Stars are probably our only national pride at this point.” Perhaps an exaggeration but an indication that the Stars provide much needed relief from life’s daily struggles for many Ghanaians.

Pressure? What pressure?

My Ghana XI:

Adam Kwarasey, John Paintsil, John Boye, John Mensah, Daniel Opare, Emmanuel Agyemang Badu, Derek Boateng, Dede Ayew, Samuel Inkoom, Sulley Muntari, Asamoah Gyan

Ghana Set for Afcon Test

The 2012 African Cup of Nations began on Saturday with drama all around. Hosts Equatorial Guinea followed the script of host nations doing well in the tournament by recording a morale boosting 1-0 victory over Libya. Libya’s good football was undone by Javier Balboa’s 87th minute strike sending the home nation into ecstasy and leaving the Equatorial Guinean players to figure out how to share one million dollars among them. Easy, if you ask me.

Zambia added to the drama of the opening day with a stunning 2-1 victory over highly fancied Senegal. It turns out Senegal have a lot of attacking talent but what’s that got to do with defending? Nothing, as Zambia showed, relying on a perfect half of counter attacking football to expose a shaky Senegalese defense marshalled by Marseille’s Souleymane Diawara. The Teranga Lions aka the fat cat lions, wasted numerous second half chances and have only themselves to blame.

Day one suggests this could be a wide-open tournament and predicting the scores of Day two’s first game, Burkina Faso – Angola didn’t help. Angola pulled through with a 2-1 victory, credit going to goalscorer Manucho with an opportunistic goal.

Sudan gave a good account of themselves in their 1-0 loss to Cote d’ Ivoire, the difference being, Cote d’ Ivoire have Didier Drogba and Sudan have…

It’s Ghana’s turn Tuesday and the latest news coming out of camp is that get this, Asamoah Gyan (insert dramatic pause here) has got a new haircut just in time for the Black Stars Afcon opener. A sign of boredom or incredible focus. His critics will likely have a field day. Gyan only has to score and do a nice Azonto rendition for them to be won over though. Of course, it could be worse. He could be injured and not participating. Alas, he is and is focused on delivering.

The boys’ psyche is best exemplified in this piece. Dede Ayew, Sulley Muntari and Goran Stevanovic are aware of what a victory would mean for them and for the country as a whole. Their determined looks and calm confidence reflect a group that is ready and single-minded.

Football is played on the field though. So, until tomorrow, we await.


Ghanaians turn to prayer and horse placentas in race to get key players fit

Heading into this year’s African Cup of Nations, the watchword for the Black Stars seems to be ‘horse placenta’!!! Injuries to Asamoah Gyan and Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu, two of our influential players, weeks to the tournament threatens to put a dampener on Ghana’s chances of lifting the trophy. The constantly crocked state of John ‘the rock of Gibraltar’ Mensah sinks hearts further. Hope springs eternal in Ghana though only if we turn to… prayer.

As Ghanaians are wont to do in difficult situations the proposed remedy on the lips of many is to pray. Gyan’s fitness has supposedly become a national priority. Declare a national day of prayer already, Mr. President. The much hyped new year’s religious events (Passover, Crossover, Be Bowled Over?) might have been huge commercial successes but totally missed the memo. I was half expecting all their billboards to change to show Asamoah Gyan’s face and legs while urging the flock to tirelessly pray for him. Alas, their constant need for self promotion and glorifying mere mortals would not give space for such change (especially at the last minute) and would inevitably brand such an idea blasphemous. It’s not too late though, we all have direct lines to God so get on your knees, say a Hail Mary and it shall be well.

The thought of a national day of prayer may sound bizarre in more secular countries. Not here. Hiring a Serbian lady to provide groundbreaking medically and magically advanced horse placenta treatment is not only bizarre but sounds an awful lot like juju. You know, juju…black magic? Just when we thought to banish the practice because it was offensive and didn’t work.

Who am I to cast doubt when the Baby Jet himself is willing to try?  Then again, Gyan’s shock move to Arabia suggest he is as open minded as they come. Kovacevic’s hire will give more fodder to the author of this article who is conviced there is a grand mafioso alliance between the GFA and some Serbian agents. Think Sicily meets Florence or something like that. For Odartey Lamptey, it is a simple equation. Gyan and for that matter any player who is not 100 percent before the tournament should be dropped.

Mariana Kovacevic would not be the first white witch doctor to grace the touchlines of African Cups of Nations. There’s Westerhof, Troussier, Leroy, Pfister (who also has the singular honor of branding a fad), Rajevac…Stevanovic? One thing is for sure, the return of placenta to the team’s camp ensures we can’t say Stevanovic is not pulling all the stops so he leaves his mark on the competition.

But back to equine placentas. My question is whether we’re importing this placenta. How many do we need? Does it work only if brought from a particular part of the World? Our economy is now importing all manner of things but horse placenta would have to take the cake. For accountability’s sake, GFA please put the supply of horse placenta on tender. Polo Club, here I come!!! There’s a deal to be made.


Dede Ayew, Marseille's most consistent player

UPDATE: The Ghana Football Association has reached a compromise of sorts with a number of European clubs regarding the reporting date for a few Black Stars players as they head to camp.


Marseille is putting in a special request for Ayew brothers, Andre and Jordan to remain at the club until after January 7, the day players are to report for preparations towards the 2012 Cup of Nations. Prior to African Cup of Nations tournaments, stories like this are typical – the result of the importance of the African player in Europe and the tournament being organized smack in the middle of the European season.

When it comes to the Ayews though, I have flashbacks of Marseille keeping their dad until the last minute before “crucial”  matches (NB: every non-friendly runs the risk of being characterized as “crucial” in Ghanaian sports journalism circles). Once upon a time in the ’90s,  Marseille would keep their dad for a midweek match and arrange for a private jet to deliver him in time for a weekend Black Stars match. Immediately after the game, he would be whisked away. Mind you, his performance was always second to none. Ahhh, but these were literally the good old days of AA, before players cited fatigue, injuries, headaches etc. as reasons they couldn’t play for their country.

Additionally, these were before FIFA mandated teams to release their players 14 days before the start of tournaments such as the Afcon and seven days before FIFA sanctioned friendly dates and qualifiers.

The question in this case is whether Ghana should agree to Marseille’s request or insist on the rules being respected to the letter. If the shoe were on the other foot and Ghana asked for Dede and Jordan to be released for an important match (say, Meteors qualifying for Olympics or U-20s World Cup qualifier), would Marseille accede?

Given that they had a chance last year to do that and didn’t why are we having this discussion? Far from being vindictive, such arrangements are possible when you’ve built a certain amount of goodwill with a certain club. It cannot be a one way street. This is just my opinion though. What do you think? Vote below but leave your more detailed comments in the comments section.