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Sports Features of Sunday, 23 October 2011

Source: Ebo Quansah

Getting the Black Stars ready for CAN 2012

Juju in Black Stars camp?

Even before the draw for the 2012 African Cup of Nations is conducted in Malabo, Ghanaians are already willing the Black Stars on to bring home the first continental silver ware, since players of the national team returned from the desert heat of Libya, with the African Unity Cup in 1982.

Without current champions Egypt, four-times winners Cameroon, the Super Eagles of Nigeria, the Black Stars’ bitterest rivals in association football, as well as the Bafana Bafana of South Africa in the draw, Ghanaians believe the championship is a straight fight between the Black Stars of Ghana and the Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire, spotting Didier Drogba, Yahaya Toure and some of the most accomplished names in African football.

For most followers of the game at the centre of the earth, the challenge of Cote d’Ivoire should not douse the rising spirit of the Black Stars. Trust Ghanaians to be optimistic, many in this country are revising hymns with which to receive the trophy on the Black Stars return from the grand finale in Libreville, Gabon. Finalists of the 2010 African show-down in Angola and quarter-finalists in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, the success of the Black Stars has left a lingering feeling among soccer fans in this country that the national players will take to the field in January and February without peers.

It is a very good feeling, considering the manner the Black Stars accounted for Sudan in the last qualifying match in Omdurman. With Ghana and Sudan tied at 13 points each, all the Black Stars needed was a drawn game to be sure of making it to the group stage of the championship proper in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. The Ghanaian national team, though, are not known for massing up in defence and play for a draw.

They went to Omdurman, saw and conquered. They tore through the Desert Hawks and left the bird without wings. Within the first 20 minutes, the job was done. Baby Jet Asamoah Djan, certainly, one of the most prolific scorers in the African game, got the noses of the Black Stars in front in the 11th minute. And skipper John Mensah was left alone after a corner-kick to boot the ball home from close range, in the 20th minute the job was done.

When the Black Stars assembled in Watford, barely 48 hours after the execution job on the Desert Hawks, for the friendly with Nigeria, followers of the national team back home in Accra and other cities, towns and villages at the centre of the earth, thought it was going to be a routine stroll against the almighty Super Eagles at the outskirts of London.

The match itself was an exciting goalless draw. As a matter of fact, there was nothing wrong with the game itself. Connoisseurs were left wondering how a friendly game could be well contested for, like it was a cup final. What they had failed to reckon with was that it was an affair between Ghana and Nigeria. When it comes to football between the West African giants, it was always going to be a tough encounter.

What is baffling officials of the Ghanaian game and those with knowledge about the workings of the GFA, was how the immediate past Vice-President of the Ghana Football Association, Mr. Fred Pappoe, who until recently was also the Chairman of the Black Stars Management Committee, allegedly got to lodge at the hotel, where the Nigerian contingent was also staying in preparation for the match. Fred was reported to have told officials of the GFA, when he was sighted at Vicarage Road, the Stadium of struggling Championship side Watford that he was in London on a business trip and decided to watch the match.

An excellent reason that makes good old Fred a patriot. It was the allegation that Fred was seen at the hotel where the Nigerians lodged before and after the match that is changing the equation.

Under what circumstances did Mr. Papoe, until recently Chairman of the Black Stars Management Committee, go to lodge at the same hotel where the Super Eagles were staying ahead of the match?

I am not a conspiracy theorist, but there are a number of issues that need to be tied up properly before the Black Stars emplane to challenge for top honours in the 2012 African Cup of Nations.

Officials of the GFA claim that the trip to London by the former Chairman of the Black Stars Management Committee was unknown to them, until Mr. Pappoe was spotted at the Stadium.

Ever since Mr. Pappoe and Randy Abbey lost their slots on the Emergency Committee of the Ghana Football Association, all has never been very well with the relationship between the victors and vanquished of the last elections.

There is suspicion that some media houses in the country, particularly Asempa FM and ‘Fire For Fire’ programme on Multi Television have increased the tempo of attacks on Kwesi Nyantakyi, President of the GFA, and that it could not be unconnected with the loss at the polls, by some former senior members.

What many Ghanaians may not know is that some full-blooded Ghanaians wished that the Black Stars fail in their top liner with Sudan in Omdurman. It is very difficult to comprehend why Ghanaians who claim to have the nation at heart, would pray for the loss of the national team.

I would like to believe that the success of the Black Stars in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea is a national obsession. We were four times champions already before Cameroon won their first continental glory. Now, they stand shoulder to shoulder with the Black Stars.

In 1982, when skipper Emmanuel Quarshie stepped out of the plane at the Kotoka International Airport with the African Unity Cup, the fourth such triumph by Ghana, Egypt, for instance had recorded only two continental triumphs in 1957 and 1979. Now Egypt has six wins to its name.

Many Ghanaians are not sleeping soundly over the fact that the famed Black Stars have not added a pin to the team’s triumph in Africa since then. That is why there should be no distractions as the national team gets ready for the job in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.

Unfortunately, the frosty management relationship is not the only distraction in the camp of the Black Stars. My information is that the players are split into the three different camps. The veteran players like John Mensah, John Paintsil and Goalkeeper Kingson relate to themselves. There is the young group of Kwadwo Asamoah, Dominic Adiyah and their colleagues.

The third group featuring Prince Kelvin Boateng and Dede Ayew, I am told, has not been very co-operative in camp. My information is that they tend to be swollen headed and not the most humble of players, which explains partially, why the two names were conspicuously absent when the last call-up was made for the engagement with Sudan and the Super Eagles in Watford, London, recently. There is even a fourth link. And that has everything to do with the underworld. I am told that some key players are uncomfortable with injuries and loss of form on Black Stars assignments, and suspect that these developments could not be unconnected with some fellow players playing a fast one on them with the help of super-natural powers.

I have a problem or two with this kind of assertion. If voodoo or juju plays football, then a nation like Benin, for instance, should be world champions. I would like to believe it is all a matter of belief.

Unfortunately, in our part of the world, people are prepared to believe the most weird of stories. That is why the Ghana Football Association and coach Goran Stevanovic would have to be tactful in getting the minds of our players properly tuned for the January and February assignment in Equatorial Guinea. We have to do well in the 2012 African Cup of Nations. That is why all problems in camp ought to be resolved quickly.