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Sports Features of Thursday, 1 November 2012

Source: Theodore M.K. Viwotor, Kaliningrad-Russia

The Black Challenge’s Mission at the World Cup

...An Experience to Build On

It was a mission to make an impact in the world of Amputee Football but the most important purpose for the 31st Amputee Football World Cup was to send the message to the world that, disability in itself is not a misfortune but an opportunity to do things differently.

Playing football with one leg or being in the post with just an arm is very fascinating; it may look easy but trying it would let many an observer know that persons with disability can do many things able-bodied ones can not dare try.

The Black Challenge, Ghana’s National Amputee Football Team, could not make it to the semi finals of the just-ended world cup but were able to maintain their position as the 6th best country in the world and the best in Africa ahead of countries like Ukraine, El Salvador, Ukraine, Liberia, Poland and Japan who took part in the championship.

They have no excuse failing to improve on their achievement at the last mundial in Argentina but can say they did not do worse for which reason they deserve some commendation from football-loving Ghanaians who may have felt a bit disappointed at their inability to bring a silverware home.

Prior to their departure from Accra, the management and playing body of the team felt disappointed at their inability to make use of a rare opportunity to play the Turkish National Amputee Football Team in a specially organized training tour of Turkey. After delays brought about by the late release of funds for the trip and other reasons, the Turkish Federation called off the trip, denying Ghana of a real training session.

This arrangement could have helped a lot in view of the pedigree of the Turks in Amputee Football and the facilities at their disposal. The Ghanaians would have taken advantage of the tour to play other clubs in the Turkish Amputee League A and B to sharpen their skills and enter into the competition better prepared; that never happened.

When the team got to Russia, they were confident of making a mark in the competition and they proved that with an impressive win against Poland, a new entrant into the game of Amputee Football in the world. The expectation was that Ghana were going to overrun the Polish who were considered as novices in the mundial. They had the greatest surprise of their lives when they were matched boot-for-boot by the debutants who had learnt the game well within just a year. The Black Challenge defied the cold winds and rain, coupled with the resistance of the Polish, to win 2-0.

This win set the tone for other Group A matches with El Salvador, host Russia, Iran and Argentina. The Black Challenge disposed off El Salvador by 3-1 in a match they had to come from a goal down to win. El Salvador went ahead early in the game but the Ghanaians re-bounced to pull even and go ahead with two goals. Rather than creating the needed impetus for a greater performance, that match saw a decline in the team’s game as they lost 1-2 to Russia, who, understandably, were far more endowed than Ghana. Then followed the 2-2 draw against Iran after a comfortable 2-0 lead. A red card to Emmanuel Yemoh reduced the team’s strength, leading to Iran’s equalization.

The most painful part of the Black Challenge’s adventure was a 1-2 loss to Argentina in the last group match; the pain stemmed from the fact that the team needed just a draw to sail through to the semi final and a loss was very painful to them. Qualification to the semis would have been historic and set the pace for a possible final and probably the cup could have been in Ghana now; or even in the worse case a silver or bronze medal. This never was and the team was very demoralized.

Their inability to overcome the pain and disappointment truly affected them in the placement match with England, a match that could have moved them from the 6th to 5th position though bringing about no change in their status as the best in Africa.

The competition proved to be a good exposure for all the twelve teams and the Black Challenge have built on their experience for a better competition in future.

Placing second behind giants like Russia (runners up) and Argentina (4th best) in Group A was no mean an achievement and the team deserve some patting at the back though they could have done better. For players like Emmanuel Yemoh, Collins Gyamfi and Richard Arthur Opentil, the tournament was chance to make their prowess known as they scored 3, 4 and 3 goals respectively, giving hope of a better performance in the coming years.

Now that the competition is over, all focus ought to shift to the next world cup in Mexico in 2014; the time looks very far away but a tight Amputee Football Calendar makes it very close. The Cup of African Nations for Amputee Football (CANAF) would be held next year and then the following year would see another mundial.

This reminds one of an article on the last World Cup in Argentina when similar calls were made for preparations to be started early enough to avoid the usual problems that crop up prior to such events. Time passed fast and then came this world cup that has come to an end with a similar problem the earlier event experienced.

This is the time to start the planning process towards the next world cup. Resource mobilization could start on a small scale from now and be broadened as the time approaches. The proposed Amputee Football League ought to be supported to build on the skills of the players to move away from the usual assemble-and-play method being adopted now. Friendly matches with other countries would be of immense benefit. The technical men and managers of the team also need to be supported financially, materially and practically with some training programmes to deepen their reserves to do better.

It was a great experience that should be built upon so that come 2014, Ghana should be counted among the first four in Amputee Football, if not the best. The Black Challenge have done well but there is more room for improvement.

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