Sports Features of Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Source: Maafo, Frederich

A problem of Cards - Ghana’s Achilles’ Heel

People argue that Ghana’s problem has been complacency but I disagree. Ghana’s has had its fair share of complacency but I believe that has been laid to rest decades ago having had a trophy-less cabinet for the last 30 years. Truly there is no reason for complacency; what the BlackStars have always lacked is DISCIPLINE.

I think what Ghana has lacked is the ability to maintain their shape and discipline when the stakes are really high.

In 1992 Ghana was favourite to clinch the trophy and the BlackStars who had not clicked for a decade were in great form. The BlackStars lived up to their tournament bidding as one of the favourites to win it. They had a certain Abedi Pele, the playmaker and the reigning African footballer of the year and Tony Yeboah , a renowned goal scorer determined to shine on the African Stage in their line up. Ghana was a match away from clinching the trophy in a tense match against the other tournament favourite Nigeria with a star-studded team of Rashidi Yekini, Sampson Siasia, Stephen Keshi, Augustine Eguavon, Finidi George, Victor Ikpeba etc.

Abedi was no doubt man of the match that day, having tormented the Nigerian defence the whole of the match and having equalised Nigeria’s lead in the stroke of halftime to dent the confidence of the Nigerians. Ghana then went on to score in the second half with a nicely worked goal finished by Prince Polley. The clock was ticking and the BlackStars were in control of the match only for Abedi Pele who had already received a yellow card for dangerous play to see red mist – a moment of madness which saw him snub the referee resulted in another yellow card! The BlackStars’ talisman and the player of the tournament, was not going to make the final!

The rest is history and we all know what happened in the finals. Everyone wonders whether the result would have been different had Ghana had their best player on the pitch just like the Ivorian’s had their best player Alain Gouamene in goal.

Fast forward to 2006 World Cup and our midfield general Micheal Essien was shown a double yellow card in a match with the USA in which Ghana won, but this meant Ghana had to face Brazil without our midfield engine. Brazil went on to tear Ghana’s midfield to pieces and blow Ghana away.

Then in 2008, Ghana hosted the African Cup under a “Host and Win” motto. A resurgent Ghanaian team who were coming to the tournament on the back of a very good showing at the World cup were hoping to win their first tournament in 26 years. They had had the misfortune of losing their talismanic captain in Stephen Appiah through long term injury but with Michael Essien at the helm of the BlackStars, Ghana was hoping to make a great impact on the tournament and win at home. Things had gone according to plan and Ghana had reached the quarter finals after beating the likes of Morocco and an in-form Guinea team. Once again, it was Nigeria in the quarter finals and as expected, it was a tense match especially when Nigeria had taken the lead through a penalty. Ghana equalised through Micheal Essien on the stroke of half time and things were looking good for Ghana. In the second half, Ghana dominated the game and it was clear there was only going to only one winner that day but a moment of madness from our stand-in captain John Mensah through an unnecessary tackle on a Nigerian player resulted in a straight red card. What was heart-breaking was that the ball was going out of play and the Ghanaian defence was not in any way threatened; Clearly this was unnecessary and an archetypical Ghanaian loss of concentration. This was a player in his prime, our defensive stalwart, the Black Star’s “rock of Gibraltar”! Ghana nevertheless were inspired after the incident and got a goal to seal the game though “Ga Mantse” Agogo. But exactly like 1992, Ghana was to get their comeuppance in the following match with Cameroon. This was a semi-final Ghana had to win to play Africa's most in-form team and the defending champions Egypt. With our defensive rock sat out for the match, the BlackStars had little choice but to soak up the pressure and hope to catch the Cameroonians on the counter attack knowing their Achilles heel in the ageing Rigobert Song. The match had been fairly balanced until Cameroon exposed Ghana’s “Mensah-less” defence and scored a goal that was to take Ghana out of the competition. This behaviour didn’t end there, and at the 2010 World Cup itself Ghana had beaten the USA again in one of the most fiercely contested matches of the tournament in the last 16, only to have in my view the best player on the pitch that day (the one who actually fed Asamoah Gyan with the famous through ball to seal the win) Dede Ayew be taken out of the next game through the accumulation of yellow cards. Another meaningless Yellow Card in our long history of unnecessary Card accumulation.

Ghana met Uruguay in the quarter final without Dede Ayew. This is not to say that the result might have been different but consider this, this was a player so inspired he had been voted man of the match in two previous matches before the match with the USA. Who knows? This is for the reader to speculate what might have happened that day had Dede been on the pitch.

So as the BlackStars prepare to win this 2012 tournament, I personally wouldn’t be worrying about their motivation to win given the price at stake, neither would I be worried about complacency given the examples we’ve witnessed during the qualifiers itself, were Nigeria, Egypt and Cameron were all put to the sword, but I would be worried about the BlackStars’ composure and discipline when the stakes are really high - the crucial matches.

To bring home the trophy, the BlackStars must avoid accumulating unnecessary Cards that have always blighted their chances. Period!

Frederich Maafo, UK