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Soccer News of Saturday, 7 July 2001

Source: Vanguard (Lagos)

Never Say Never! Black Stars Are Back As Contenders

Neither Coach Fred Osam Duodu nor the Ghanaian senior team players would have believed it even if a soothsayer had harped on it. But in a single day, the World Cup 2002 African group B campaign was turned on its head and there returns Black Stars as contenders for the lone ticket to Korea/Japan.

Sweden-based Charles Amoah and homeboy Isaac Boakye got the goals at the Paynesville with Liberia able to hit target only once through Kelvin Sebwe.

Even then, they would not have thought much about it. Until Nigeria's 4-0 whiplash of Sudan in Omdurman informed new arithmetic's and permutations.

Suddenly, the Black Stars can go to the World Cup if they win their last two matches-against Sudan in Accra and against Nigeria in Port Harcourt.

They've hauled eight points, and two victories out of their last two matches will bring them to 14. That will mean they have taken care of Sudan and Nigeria. But they will have to pray that Liberia do not beat Sierra Leone in Freetown on July 14.

If, come next Sunday, the Black Stars do the expected and beat Sudan, and Liberia fail to beat the Leone Stars, the July 28 cast between Nigeria and Ghana will assume utmost importance.

For that kind of match, the Ghanaians will be all fired up. They will approach the game with tremendous confidence. In their past four grade A games, the four-time African champions have made it four win, scoring 10 goals and conceding three.

They beat Congo DR 3-0 in a Nations Cup 2002 qualifier, hit Zimbabwe 2-1 in Harare in the same series and rounded up the campaign with a 3-1 thrashing of Lesotho. Last week, they did the unexpected - thrashing Liberia in Monrovia.

If they beat Sudan, nothing stops the Black Stars storming Nigeria with an intention to take the three points. They have done it before!

Ghana eliminated Nigeria from the qualifying series for 1962 World Cup finals staged in Chile. The result was 4-1 for the Black Stars in Accra and 2-2 in Lagos.

In the race to Germany 74, the second leg match in Lagos was abandoned with Ghana leading 3-2, after a drawn game in Accra. CAF awarded the match to the Ghanaians.

Getting down to the real issue, the last time Nigeria's senior team defeated its Ghanaian counterpart was 28 years ago, during the 2nd All-Africa Games that Nigeria hosted in 1973. Scoreline was 4-2 in favour of the Green Eagles.

Yet, another permutation results in the Super Eagles qualifying for the finals in Asia next year after next weekend's games. If Liberia lose in Sierra Leone, and Ghana and Sudan end it in a draw in Accra, Nigeria's lead and hold on the ticket would be unreachable, even with a home loss to Ghana on the final day.

Presently, only Sierra Leone is entirely out of the race. Even Sudan, despite the cyclone that swept them apart in Omdurman, can still go to the World Cup. They will hope to beat Ghana away and Sierra Leone at home, that Liberia lose in Freetown and that the Super Eagles and Black Stars cancel themselves out.

Liberia? They are also still in with a chance, despite George Weah's celebrated resignation. They need the three points in Freetown to take them to 15, and then hope that the Super Eagles will fail to beat Ghana.

Surely, the Super Eagles deserve commendation for the performance in Omdurman. Just as Weekend Sports Special told you, they went there to "ATTACK AND ATTACK". But that wonderful late rally would not have been meaningful if the Black Stars had lost to Liberia in Monrovia.

With that victory, the Stars have killed three birds with a single stone. They avenged the loss to Liberia in Accra to somehow redeem their image; they installed themselves as the authentic kingmakers of group B and; also joined the race to eventually become the king!