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.

Raining Black Stars

African players model new Puma kit (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images for Puma)

Puma unveiled the Black Stars’ new kit a little more than a week ago. Asamoah ‘Baby Jet’ Gyan was among the stars from the continent who rocked their respective countries’ new gear;  Yaya Toure was there to represent Cote d’ Ivoire, Samuel Eto’o, Cameroon and Steven Pienaar, South Africa, to name a few.

Puma’s Creative Africa Network were responsible for the designs with local artists representing the countries taking part. Inviting local artists to participate in the design process was a novel approach to conceiving the national kits of the countries Puma sponsors. The results stuck closely to the most recent Puma templates for jerseys while including the artist’s personal touch.

Ghana's Godfried Donkor (5th Right to Left) chose the theme, 'Raining Black Stars' for his design (Photo by Tom Dulat/Getty Images for Puma)

Ghana’s was designed by Godfried Donkor, a ‘fine artist’ by profession and a passionate supporter of the Black Stars. I spoke to ‘the man, the myth, the soon to be legend’ two days ago about his inspiration for the design, his sudden fame and the final product.

As a kid in Africa, the dream is to become the next Abedi Pele, Roger Milla, Rabah Madjer … Michael Essien, Samuel Eto’o, Didier Drogba and the list goes on.  In a few years, young artists may look to Puma’s initiative and want to become the next Godfried Donkor. So, did Donkor ever dream something like this could happen to him when he was a kid?

“No, even last year up until I got the call I would never have imagined it,” he says. “When we launched it last week that’s when it really dawned on me how big the project was and it’s been an amazing response.”

A native of Kumasi, Donkor left Ghana when he was eight but visits regularly – in some years as often as twice. The London resident says the congratulatory calls have not stopped: from relatives to people he’s lost touch with over the years.

He is merely reaping the rewards of the hard work he’s put in together with the Puma design team over a year and a half to come up with the Home kit. A few weeks before the 2010 World Cup he was approached by Puma representatives to work on the new design. Two weeks after he was asked, he settled on the theme ‘raining Black Stars,’ and submitted designs to reflect that idea. After much back and forth, we have a jersey.  “In the end I was happy with the final design,” he says, satisfied.

Ghana's new jersey (R in the trio of tops) has more stars than before and includes red, gold and green stars

Donkor adds, “I went back to all the memories I had of watching the great Ghana teams from the Abedi Pele era, more recently from the U-20 team and then this team which did so well in the World Cup,” to draw inspiration for the design. He also researched the jerseys the team has won since the ’50s in order to come up with something that would fit in the ever evolving look and feel of a Black Stars jersey. “The way they [2010 Black Stars] played without fear was one of the inspirations as well.”

If he had to do it all again, he would without hesitating. And if he had the power, he would make the stars on the jersey even darker. For that to happen though, FIFA’s rules would have to be broken. Given the fine levied against Puma and the Cameroon Football Federation in the past for a fashion faux-pas, that ain’t happening anytime soon.

For more on Donkor’s design, watch the video below.

Transfer Deadline Day and Black Stars

Shedding tears after a loss is one thing but Turkey? Say it ain't so Baby Jet. Photo Credit: Senyuiedzorm Adadevoh

The European transfer day deadline has come and gone with only one Black Star making a move on the day. Almighty “Prince of Goals”Tagoe moved from Hoffenheim to Bursaspor on a three year deal. Widely expected to move, Sulley Muntari stayed at Inter Milan. Milan must be really hard to leave or he knows something we don’t about playing time there.

A frenzy was generated by a rumor that Black Stars striker Asamoah Gyan was moving from the Northeast of England to where? Turkey? Noooooo way!!!! The rumors suggested it was to no less a club than Galatasaray, one of Turkey’s biggest. While they could probably afford it why would a top player consider Turkish football at such a turbulent time? I forgot. It’s all about the money. Cha Ching!

By the time some reports mentioned Gyan had handed in a transfer request, which was then refuted by the player himself with a classic “are they liars too?”quote when told the BBC reported it, my head was spinning. In these dealings it is clear all parties like to ‘manage’ information so sometimes you have to believe everyone and no one at all. In the final analysis, nothing came of it and I’m glad. I get to watch Baby Jet play regularly in England until January when he leaves for the Cup of Nations and then after. Back on and on. Oh and he’s joined by a player who is how should I put it, as self-assured as they come, Nicklas Bendtner. Perhaps Bendtner can fill the shoes of Danny Welbeck whose presence at Sunderland in my opinion helped Gyan a great deal.

Prior to this activity, Anthony Annan had quietly moved to Vitesse Arnhem in the Dutch League. Let’s hope he gets more games than he did at Schalke where a change in coach shortly after he got there as well as niggling injuries limited his opportunities.

Moving forward, the most important thing for Black Stars players is to get playing time going into January. So while some may scratch their heads upon hearing a transfer like Dominic Adiyiah moving to the Turkish second division (I admit I scratched my bald patch so hard I developed sores), it is important that he plays often to get into the rhythm of playing.

That’s why it is good to see that of all the players invited to camp for the games against Swaziland and Brazil, only a few are not regulars. Let’s hope it stays that way.