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Sports News of Monday, 11 February 2008

Source: gye nyame concord

Ghana 2008: Best Tourney Ever

... Says Rigobert Song, Jose Mourinho as Ghanaians retain faith in LeRoy *Records fall at Ghana 2008

THERE HAVE been some minuses but experts say there are too many pluses that make the just-ended Ghana 2008 the most successful African Cup of Nations football fiesta ever since Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan kick-started the soccer fiesta in 1957.

Plaudits have come from many, including seven Cup of Nations veteran and Camerounian Captain, Rigobert Song, who says the quality of play, is the best he has seen since he started playing in the Nations’ Cup14 years ago.

In an interview, Song noted that the quality has been extremely high because every nation that came to Ghana 2008 had skilful players playing in Europe, making the game very competitive and very much unlike previous times when few nations with African stars in Europe held sway on the continent.

His view is shared by former Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho and former German national football team captain Lotha Mathaus, who were in Ghana to watch the semi-final and final matches.

Mourinho, who said he watched all the matches live on EuroSport TV before emplaning to Accra, said the quality of play and quality of goals showed a marked improvement in the African game.

He, however, noted that football on the continent has to climb a bit higher for an African nation to win the World Cup, though he foresees an African nation getting to the semi-final in the 2010 World Cup to he hosted in South Africa.

“The semi-finals were of a high level, but football on this continent needs to climb another step.

“I’m not talking about winning a World Cup, but a team reaching the quarters or semis.

Lotha Mathaus, who was equally impressed by the level of the game, extolled the quality of the tournament.

The records also prove that Ghana 2008 has fetched the highest numbers of goals ever since the tournament began in 1957.

Ninety-eight goals had been scored by the end of the third-place match between Ghana and Ivory Coast, beating the record tournament with the highest number of goals by as much as five, with the final match between Egypt and Cameroun in hand as of press time.

The previous record of highest number of 93 goals belonged to Burkina ‘98.

By the semi-final, the celebrated Samuel Eto Fils of Cameroun had also edged out the over 14-year record of player with the highest number of goals at the bi-annual football fiesta previously held by Laurent Pokou of the Ivory coast. Poku had 14 goals, which was surpassed by Eto’s 17th goal in this tournament. The difference, however, is that Pokou scored his 14 goals in two tourneys, while Eto eclipsed him in as many as five tourneys.

While the goals were plentiful, the quality has presented a headache to soccer analysts who say there were too many quality goals at the tournament, making it difficult to select even the best 10 out of the lot.

Meantime, the future of Coach Claude LeRoy was thrown into doubt after the Black Stars lost in the Africa Cup of Nations semi-finals against the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon, but a cross-section of soccer fans are calling on the Ghana Football Association to retain the Frenchman.

After the senior national team put up a rejuvenated performance that saw them thrash Ivory Coast 4-2 on Saturday, many fans expressed content with the score line and the third place chalked by the Stars and implored the GFA not to terminate the contract of LeRoy.

While some fans insisted that the team should have won the Cup, Michael Nkansa, a sports enthusiast at Dansoman, a suburb of Accra, described the third place match as a consolation for the country and called on Ghanaians to be satisfied with the result.

He argued that the constant changes of coaches of the Black Stars in the past has been the major bane of the team over the years and that if the GFA maintain coach Claude Le Roy, it would offer him a more greater opportunity to groom the team for the next World Cup and Angola 2010.

Many others interviewed by Gye Nyame Concord in Dansoman, Osu, Labone, Mataheko and Russia, all in the capital city, expressed satisfaction with the general performance and conduct of the team, with a few critical about player selection for the match against Cameroun.

Others were also not happy about delayed substitutions whilst others attributed the defeat to ill luck, saying: “Luck was simply not on our side.”

Mr Eric Dwamina, aka Agenda, a lotto agent at Russia said the Stars were good but expressed dissatisfaction about the arrangement of the players on the field by the Coach, disagreeing with the replacement of John Mensah with Michael Essien at the central defence.

According to him, LeRoy should have used Roma midfielder Ahmed Barusso for that position to give Michael Essien more room to operate in the midfield and upfront.

Mr Atta Panyin, a sports shop operator at Osu also commended the performance of the Black Stars in the tournament but called on the Coach not to rely on foreign-based players alone in building a strong national side.

He maintained that the Coach could mobilize some local players for such tourneys since they are equally endowed with potentials, asking how could a national team go to a tournament without the leading goal scorer in its league.

However, for Malik Alhassan, “all is well that ends well”, saying the loss had saved the lives of some people as a victory for the Stars could have meant some recorded deaths and injuries as it happened when Ghana won the other four matches.

He stated that Ghanaians must not blame anybody for the loss since football was all about a win draw or lose.

Meanwhile, the GFA has hinted that Coach Claude LeRoy will be offered a new contract when his current deal expires.

GFA spokesman Randy Abbey says the Frenchman has impressed in his two-year stay and merits a contract extension, stressing that “we have absolute confidence in the coach and do not intend to dispense with his services.”

He told newsmen a day after the team’s loss to Cameroon that the FA would sit down with LeRoy to talk about the terms of his new contract when it expires at the end of February.

“It is a shame we lost against Cameroun and I understand the frustrations of the fans but LeRoy has shown beyond all reasonable doubt that he is a good coach and he has all our support.”

Interestingly, the Coach said he was surprised to hear of the FA’s intentions, saying that “I am very grateful for the confidence the GFA has shown in me and I am also ready to work with the team in future”.

“It is unusual for an African football association to give its vote of confidence a day after it has lost a crucial game so this gesture means a lot to me,” LeRoy explained.

Ghana scored three times in the last 20 minutes to beat Ivory Coast 4-2 and finish third in the tournament.

Boubacar Sanogo, making his first start of the tournament, scored twice in nine minutes to give Ivory Coast a 2-1 halftime lead.

Quincy Owusu-Abeyie equalised in the 70th minute before goals from Junior Agogo and Haminu Dramani gave the hosts an impressive win.

Ghana drew first blood in the 10th minute when Sulley Muntari scored with a 25-metre free kick which keeper Tiasse Kone got a hand to but could not stop flying into the top corner of his goal.

Sanogo equalised in the 24th minute when he latched onto a perfectly timed pass from Emerse Fae and scored with a low shot into the far corner.

The same player struck again eight minutes later, stabbing home the rebound after Didier Drogba’s effort was saved by Richard Kingson, who minutes earlier had foiled both players with a double save.

Sanogo nearly completed a hat-trick in the 39th minute but his shot struck the underside of the crossbar from Drogba’s pass as Ivory Coast threatened to run away with the game.

In a statement of support to the team and its handlers, the General Secretary of the People’s National Convention (PNC), Mr Bernard Monah, noted that the nation was proud of the stupendous performance by the Black Stars, congratulating them in how far they came in the tournament, defying all pessimistic speculations.

“We should like to entreat our gallant players to put the pangs of their loss to Cameroon behind them and move forward with renewed hope and confidence”, he noted in the statement copied to this paper yesterday.

“We are assuring the Black Stars that in 2009 when the PNC will be in government, we will assist them in the best meaning of assistance to enable them win the Africa Cup and the World Cup in Angola and South Africa respectively”, he pointed out.