IT IS FINISHED. Some may say, almost. Ghana’s 2014 World Cup dream virtually came tumbling on the turf of the Arena de Nunas in the Brazilian city of Natal on Monday night. With the 2-1 defeat of the famed Black Stars by the United States of all footballing nations, Ghana’s participation in the World Cup is all but over.
By the fixtures, the Black Stars will have to play Germany and Portugal, with six points at stake. But the stark reality is that these two opponents carry more fire power and defensive capabilities than the threat posed by a largely anonymous United States on Monday.
From those who schemed to use the World Cup to advance the cause of their political careers, by threatening to send only National Democratic Congress footsoldiers to Brazil, through the machinations of officials of the Ghana Football Association, who exposed the Black Stars to the enemy by camping in the Unites States oblivious of the harm they were causing, to the bankruptcy of ideas on the part of national coach James Kwasi Appiah, who defied all odds to contrive defeat for the national team from a very strong winning position, the campaign is almost over.
For ordinary citizens at the Centre of the Earth, who were banking their hopes on the Black Stars to drown their sorrows for one month of soccer action, at least, the defeat in Natal is too bitter to swallow. A clergy man I met yesterday morning wants to believe that there could be a curse on the nation.
“I am a clergy man, but football is a national obsession, and we all take solace in it. I watched the game last night, and cannot believe that we lost. It defies logic to understand why Kwasi Appiah chose to put his best players on the bench, while the relatively inexperienced Jordan Ayew, Atsu, and others struggled to find their feet,” said our football crazy priest.
“The way this society and everything associated with Ghana is suddenly collapsing is serious. We need to pray.
I think there is something spiritual afflicting this society. I cannot understand why the coach made the kind of selection he presented, when we have all those quality players on the bench…Ghana could be under a form of spell, from the way everything is falling apart,” he told me yesterday morning.
While it would be difficult to pin-point the form of curse, if any, I am of the firm view that the first seed in the Black Stars defeat was sown by the Executive Council of the Ghana Football Association, which decided, against all odds, to camp the players in Miami, ahead of the World Cup. The conventional wisdom in any competition is that you do not expose yourself and your tactics in front of your opponent before encountering him or her.
In the case of the Black Stars, the GFA, led by its President, defied every reason in the rule book, by taking the players to enemy territory to expose themselves before the big day. The real inquisition on the failure of the team to stand up to the global test would begin after the Black Stars encounter Portugal in the last of the three group matches on Thursday, June 26. For me though, the GFA and its leadership have several questions to answer on the choice of the venue for camping.
Whatever happens next, there is a huge political cost to the failure of the Black Stars against the United States. The Government of President John Dramani Mahama, which has failed woefully to deliver on all essential services to Ghanaians, staked so much on the Black Stars performances in Brazil, to the extent of working out an official policy of using resources of state to take supporters of the ruling party to Brazil, instead of genuine supporters of the Black Stars.
To spite the entire people of Ghana, who work so hard by the day to prop up this moribund administration with resources of state, Deputy Minister of Youth and Sports Joseph Yamin went public and told Ghanaians that the Ministry of Youth and Sports was sending mainly footsoldiers of the ruling National Democratic Congress to cheer the Black Stars in Brazil, because only the NDC members voted for the party to come to power.
One does not wish evil for his nation. But, with this kind of mentality underpinning activities of state, who would want to sacrifice for only followers of the NDC to enjoy? Who knows, the failure of the Black Stars in Brazil could be the Almighty’s own way of sending a message to the people of this country.
I do not believe someone like Yaw Boateng Gyan is on the Black Stars Management Committee because of his magic wand in football management. For me, as a sport journalist and political commentator, political connotation has something to do with the failure of the Black Stars in Brazil.
There is one more reason why the Black Stars failed the US test. We all applauded James Kwasi Appiah for the technical guidance he provided in Black Stars’ 6-1 annihilation of Egypt in Kumasi last October, which paved the way for the adventure in Brazil. On Monday night though, Kwasi Appiah was a total failure. His selection was one huge joke, and provided the United States with the confidence to deal with whatever threat the Black Stars posed.
In serious competitive football as the World Cup, the conventional wisdom is for a coach to start with his best eleven, before making changes when some of the players fail to respond to the exigencies of the occasion. On Monday night, Kwasi Appiah put his best and experienced players – Kelvin-Prince Boateng, Michael Essien and Emmanuel Agyeman Badu – on the bench, while relatively inexperienced players like Jordan Ayew and Christian Atsu laboured in vain.
To crown a day of technical bankruptcy, Kwasi Appiah decided to put Kwadwo Asamoah, this nation’s most creative footballer, at the left side of defence, instead of offering him the opportunity to create havoc in the midfield. In all this, key defender Harrison Afful was fidgeting on the bench. When Jordan and co. were being ineffective, he left them to fumble for a very long time, before effecting some sort of changes.
The result was that only Sulley Muntari was creating problems for the Americans in the midfield. It resulted in the Black Stars defence performing without cover. And this was on a day when key players were missing from the defence. When the United States recorded one of the fastest goals ever scored in the World Cup within 30 seconds from kick off, it was the result of an over-exposed defence failing to deal with the threat posed by veteran Clint Dempsey, who slotted in after rounding John Boye and slotting home past keeper Adam Kwarasey.
The winner, a free header by John Brooks from a corner kick in the dying minutes of the game, was also a result of the failure of the Black Stars defence. Brooks was left free to beat the Ghanaian ‘keeper. Ayew had raised hopes at the Centre of the Earth by scoring the equaliser from a clever back-heel from skipper Asamoah Gyan. But it was too little too late.
This was a loss contrived from the bench. Kwasi Appiah took part of the blame when he told BBC that it was a little mistake from the bench. I dare state that the mistake was gargantuan. It has virtually ended the Black Stars’ hope of progressing from the group stages for the first time in three outings in the World Cup.
Naturally, a number of the Black Star players were disappointed with the technical build-up in their match with the United States. Kelvin-Prince Boateng openly criticised the selection policy of National Coach Kwasi Appiah. In the opinion of the German-born Ghanaian, a coach worth his salt would not bench his best players and experiment with inexperienced players in a World Cup game, he complained to German television.
Kwadwo Asamoah also told the media that he was not comfortable playing with the back four. He said he prefers causing havoc in the opponents half of the field, instead of playing from his own defence. In 2006, Ghana reached the last 16. Players of the Black Stars carried the African challenge on their broad shoulders in 2010 in South Africa, where they were only a Luiz Suarez hands away from the semi-final slot. If they fail to get past Germany and Portugal, the national team of Ghana would have been in the reverse mode.
At the Centre of the Earth, there is faint hope that a miracle could happen to see the Black Stars through. Miracles, though, do not happen much these days. The era when the Israelis were fed on manna from heaven were long gone, which leaves the Black Stars with a tall order of trying to qualify from a very difficult Group H.
There are a few people at the centre of the earth though, who still believe there is hope for Ghana. For me, I am of the view that our chances evaporated with that needless loss to the USA. If Coach Kwasi Appiah had applied himself to the task, the Black Stars would have run out winners by at least a three-goal margin.
The United States do not come anywhere near the Black Stars in terms of technical ability. Player for player, the Ghanaians were miles ahead on Monday, which is why the feeling is that Ghana has exhausted its ability to progress any further in the competition.
On the other hand, if the Black Stars could prove some of us wrong by overcoming Germany and Portugal, we will sing the praises of the team to the high heavens. Expectations though, are very limited. But, like a colleague said in the office yesterday, in the game of association football, and in many other areas of human endeavour, you do not say never.
Whatever happens to the Black Stars in the two subsequent matches, Monday’s defeat was needless and avoidable. In a nation where sources of happiness are virtually curtailed by a moribund of an administration at Government House, Monday’s loss was a pain too much to bear.
It is not surprising when news filtered through yesterday evening that the Government of President John Dramani Mahama has rescinded its decision to fly supporters to Brazil. It may be bad news for Deputy Minister Yamin and his footsoldiers. In real terms though, it is the natural reaction of an administration that is too broke to run essential services.