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Sports Features of Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Source: Christopher Opoku

Black Satellites; solid foundation for the future

As I watched the Black Satellites battle it out with the Young Pharaohs of Egypt in the 2013 African Youth Championship final over the weekend, for once I took off my journalistic cap and felt so proud to be a Ghanaian because of the way the players performed.

Without a doubt the team grew into the tournament and after an opening day defeat to Egypt, Sellas Tetteh’s side improved steadily throughout the tournament and actually ground out a semi-final result against a much better Mali side.

Indeed, I doubt that anyone can fault the players for losing in the penalty shootout. Luck was simply not on Ghana’s side on the day and that is the way football is sometimes. What this piece will attempt to do is to examine the many positives that have emerged from this Black Satellites.

Sellas Tetteh makes a good return

One cannot continue without mentioning the contributions of Maxwell Konadu who guided the team to the AYC in the first place before returning to his role as Black Stars assistant head coach, but Sellas Tetteh, who had been working as the technical director for Liberty Professionals, also made a strong return to the Black Satellites upon his appointment.

He instilled a lot of confidence in the team, many of whose players are plying their trade in the Glo Premier League. Most of the players had not been to a major tournament before and it was a delight to watch how Tetteh gave the team tactical organisation, especially the 2-0 victory over Algeria.

I remember remarking to a colleague that it was a game where Ghana looked so tactically disciplined that the Algerians simply could not break through.

The Black Satellites attacked and defended as a unit and it clearly showed, especially in the semifinal against Mali where clearly Ghana was under the kosh.

Tetteh got his selection for the final against Egypt spot on and as I said earlier on, Ghana’s loss was simply due to bad luck.

Nevertheless, Tetteh has resumed his exploits at Youth level and given that the team that he took to conquer the World four years ago was far more talented than the current team, qualifying for the 2013 World Youth Cup and playing in the AYC final the way the team did still leaves him covered in glory and together with his technical team, Tetteh deserves a huge pat on the back.

George Afriyie shows true leadership

Unlike the Black Stars who were paid match winning bonuses at the end of every match at the 2013 African Nations Cup, the Black Satellites will receive their bonuses upon returning to Ghana from a successful campaign in Algeria.

I use the word successful because Black Satellites Committee chairman, George Afriyie noted before the team went on the training tour in Italy and Spain that the main target was to qualify for the World Cup, which was achieved.

Afriyie also deserves a lot of credit because under his leadership, the players were not focused on what they would get in terms of bonuses. Rather the boys wanted to make a name for themselves and fight for Ghana; traits that sadly are disappearing from the Black Stars during tournaments.

Again Afriyie and his team ensured that there was team discipline in camp and that in turn strengthened the mental psyche of the players.

For the Black Satellites to recover from an opening day loss to not only qualify for the World Cup but reach the AYC final is not only a testament to the technical work done by Tetteh, but also to the organizational and leadership skills of Afriyie.

Lawrence Lartey – another John Mensah in the making

The first time I saw Lawrence Lartey play was in the 2011 MTN FA Cup semifinal for Nania FC against Berekum Chelsea in Kumasi and even then, I was hugely impressed with the maturity with which he played at the back which belied his young age.

Lartey eventually led Nania FC to MTN FA Cup and Champion of Champions glory, claiming the scalps of Asante Kotoko and Berekum Chelsea respectively. His move to Ashanti Gold was hailed as a transfer coup and he has continued to play with finesse and panache.

He was a true leader on the pitch for the Black Satellites, with superb reading of the game and excellent organizational skills. Indeed he brought out the best in his colleagues at the back and he is playing just like John Mensah did in his prime for the Black Stars.

If he continues in this vein, he could make a gatecrashing entry into the Black Stars if Ghana qualifies for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

The youth legacy of Tema Youth bears dividends

I firmly believe that Premier League outfit Tema Youth deserves the gratitude of an entire nation for adopting a youth-only policy after returning to the Premier League.

Many of the club’s current players were spotted playing for colts teams and secondary school teams and at the Tema park, Tema Youth plays some wonderful football. As many as five of the team’s players were part of the Black Satellites and all excelled.

Jeremiah Arkoful missed the opening day defeat to Egypt but came into the team and kept his place. He showed what an excellent left back he is and his delivery from set pieces are not bad either. He is one to watch for the future, especially with the Black Stars’ problems at left back.

Joseph Attamah’s story is indeed remarkable. He was initially dropped from the squad, but an injury suffered by Ahmed Adams allowed him back into the team. He also sat out the first game, but came in after and like Arkoful, kept his place. He showed excellence as a centre half and it is a credit to him that whilst on the pitch, Ghana did not concede a goal from open play.

Derrick Mensah also came into the team and showed what a good central midfielder he can be. Even though he missed out in the final, his brilliance in the game against Mali showed that he is a player with great promise and his inclusion in the tournament’s best XI says a lot.

Moses Odjer’s displays in midfield were full of energy and power and he reminds me so much of a younger Emmanuel Agyemang Badu.

Francis Narh also showed immense mobility as a forward, unselfishly providing support to Ebenezer Assifuah and his award as the best fair player of the tournament is well deserved.

The Tema Youth hierarchy led by Winfred Osei Kwaku therefore deserves a lot of commendation for giving youth a chance and many other Premier League sides could do worse than contacting him to learn something. At least it could reduce expenditure in transfer fees.

Ebenezer Assifuah – a raw diamond

I recall seeing Assifuah for the first time during the 2011 MTN FA Cup playing for Eleven Wise. In the match in particular, even though Wise lost to Berekum Chelsea in Sekondi, it was obvious that Assifuah was a player to be watched.

He spent two seasons on loan at Wise from second division side Proud United and his exploits in goal scoring earned him a move to Liberty Professionals, where he has begun to explode as a fine striker.

He was selected for the Black Satellites only after playing a friendly game against the team and in Algeria, he showed a huge appetite for work in leading the line, which he did brilliantly.

True, he still needs to be polished but three goals in his first major tournament is a good beginning and he is certainly one for the future; perhaps a future replacement for Asamoah Gyan, who knows?

Potential inclusions for the World Cup

With the squad Sellas Tetteh has got now, I am confident that the Black Satellites will do very well in Turkey, even with no further inclusions.

The interesting thing is that there are some players who could be included to make the team even stronger. Tall centre half Daniel Pappoe stars for the Chelsea reserve team in England and could be considered an option; former King Faisal winger Frank Acheampong is also eligible and available, and so are Baba Abdul Rahman and Richmond Boakye Yiadom.

Indeed the rules state that to be eligible to play in the 2013 FIFA World Cup, all players should have been born on or after 1 January 1993. All the aforementioned players fall into this category, but in the end, Sellas Tetteh will take the final decisions

I would also like to praise the contributions of Eric Ofori Antwi, who showed a lot of calmness and excellent positioning in goal for Ghana. The Amidaus goalkeeper showed why he is Ghana’s number one at youth level and with hard work; he could catapult himself into the Black Stars in future. Honourable mentions also go to Medeama SC’s Richmond Nketiah, New Edubiase United’ s Ebenezer Ofori, Wa All Stars’ Seidu Salifu, Udinese’s Clifford Aboagye and Asante Kotoko’s Michael Anaba, as well as the entire team. It just wasn’t Ghana’s day against Egypt, but clearly, a solid foundation has been built for the future.

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