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Soccer News of Tuesday, 15 January 2002

Source: AFP

"Black Stars" seek return to dizzy heights of yesteryear

Ghana are the lost souls of African football, a once-mighty football nation no longer feared by even modest rivals.

The last of a record-equalling four Nations Cup titles came 20 years ago, and many of their supporters expect the worst in Mali against Morocco and South Africa in Group B.

Adding to the many problems of experienced coach Fred Osam-Duodo is the loss through injury of three key Europe-based professionals - midfielder Stephen Appiah and strikers Charles Amoah and Peter Ofori-Quaye.

At one stage, a public row between the coach and Bayern Munich defender Samuel Kuffour threatened to sideline a star favoured to win the African Footballer of the Year title.

Kuffour has been shortlisted with strikers Al-Hadji Diouf of Senegal and Samuel Eto'o of Cameroon and, despite an African love affair with those who score goals rather than prevent them, the Ghanaian is set to succeed.

The Bayern star has, however, refused to lead the 'Black Stars' in Mali after the summary dismissal of another Germany-based professional, midfielder Charles Akonnor, from the squad last year.

"Akonnor is our leader and we need him. If they want to remove him, there is a better way than to humiliate him in public," said Kuffour, echoing the view of many squad members.

Other former stars like striker Kwame Ayew, younger brother of three-time African Footballer of the Year Abedi 'Pele' Ayew, Samuel Johnson and Yaw Preko have passed their use-by date.

The result is a youthful squad, including five of the team beaten 3-0 by hosts Argentina in the world under-20 championship final last year, that is desperately short of experience at the highest level.

Whether the new kids on the block can match the more experienced Moroccans and South Africans is doubtful, especially after a comprehensive 2-0 loss away to Egypt in the highlight of a three-match preparatory programme.

Kuffour considers the opening match against Morocco to be crucial as the 'Black Stars' seek to emulate the teams of 1963, 1965, 1978 and 1982 and conquer Africa.

"This is a very big game for us. We really have to be motivated and help each other if we are going to achieve a favourable result," Kuffour told reporters.