Sports Features of Saturday, 29 June 2013

Source: Christopher Opoku

Why cancelling Japan friendly will benefit Ghana

As you would have heard by now, Ghana’s Black Stars are scheduled to face Japan in a friendly match on Tuesday September 10 2013 in Tokyo.

What this means is that the crucial 2014 World Cup qualifier against Zambia in Kumasi would take place on Friday September 6 2013, after which the Black Stars will emplane for Far East Asia to honour the Japan match in the Kirin Cup.

Already, an estimated $125,000 has been paid to the Ghana Football Association representing half of Ghana’s earnings from turning up for the match, which is an estimated $250,000.

Now, you might be wondering why I am writing a piece on this. Actually I am about to let rip because I do not think this match is worth it and as usual, I will explain.

Without mincing words, the GFA is exhibiting complacency towards the Zambia match and by doing so, not showing the former African champions much respect.

If the Black Stars have to play against Zambia on a Friday, because by then the European Leagues will be in full swing, the earliest head coach Kwasi Appiah will get the full complement of his squad for the game would be on the preceding Tuesday night, since most of the Black Stars ply their trade in Europe.

What it means is that the team would only have two sessions in Accra on Wednesday; fly to Kumasi after one training session on Thursday and perhaps do a half session on Thursday evening, before playing the match the following day. With such a huge game on the horizon, I do not think that this is ideal preparation.

The match was originally scheduled to take place on Sunday September 8, which is a date that would aid our preparations.

Indeed, the Football Association of Zambia (FAZ) is working with that date and so is unofficially aware of the date change.

The Zambians have been exuding confidence because unlike the Black Stars who only need a draw to progress to the final qualifying round, the Chipolopolo (Copper Bullets) must win the match and that is what the Southern Africans are aiming to do.

With this in mind, what sort of planning went into agreeing to play a match in Japan? Why should there be a deliberate attempt to mortgage Ghana’s World Cup chances because of $250,000?

I am particularly worried because I am reliably informed that the contract for the Japan game was signed without input from majority of the Executive Committee members of the GFA.

After speaking to some members of the Executive Committee, I get the feeling that most of them are not happy with the development and indeed, some of them have expressed disquiet over the effect it could have on the game against Zambia.

Qualification for the 2014 World Cup could potentially net Ghana a minimum of $10 million. Compared to that, $250,000 looks like very small fry, especially since the Zambians could put a spanner in the works if we are not careful.

I am told that should Ghana pull out of the Japan friendly, the GFA is liable to pay over $1 million in compensation. I guess that is what you can call a football ‘judgement debt’ in this regard.

Seriously though, how did such a contract reach its fruition without unanimous or majority approval from the Executive Committee? I do not know the current GFA hierarchy as one that indulges in short termism, but this particular situation smacks of not prioritizing the nation’s interests and it is very worrying to say the least.

Apart from a 4-1 win in a friendly over a makeshift Zambia side in London a few years ago, Ghana has not beaten the Zambians since the 1992 African Nations Cup in Senegal, when a superb Abedi Ayew ‘Pele’ goal sealed the points for the Black Stars.

That is a long time ago and indeed, whilst in terms of names, Ghana might be ahead of the Zambians, as a cohesive unit, they are slightly ahead of us. The pressure will be on the Black Stars in the match and Zambia will have no such pressure on them.

Simply put, the Zambians can beat the Black Stars in Kumasi and that is a possibility that should not be ignored. They cannot be underestimated and that is why the GFA should not exhibit any signs of complacency.

In my view, the Japan match should be scrapped so that the Black Stars would be better prepared for the Zambia game. Already, there is talk of a friendly against Serbia in August and that is a very good development because it will give Appiah some ideas about the team before the Zambia match.

That is a friendly that should happen and not the Japan one, which could jeopardise Ghana’s World Cup chances.

I know I am sounding very controversial, but if it means we have to pay the compensation of over $1 million to Japan, then so be it.

Otherwise, the GFA would have to send a second string side to Japan, perhaps a Local Black Stars squad or a team made up of players not involved at all in the Zambia build up. Something has to be done because in terms of preparations, it makes no sense to play that game on Friday instead of Sunday.

As they say, a word to the wise is enough. Sacrificing a potential income of at least $10 million on earnings totaling $250,000 does not make fiscal sense, but unfortunately that is what is happening.

I can only hope that the situation is corrected, but clearly, cancelling the Japan friendly would only boost Ghana’s World Cup qualifying hopes.