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Sports Features of Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Source: Opoku

A defeat in pain but a solid foundation to build on

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And so, it all came to an end. The script that would have seen Asamoah Gyan lift the African Nations Cup trophy had to be rewritten.

The script that would have seen Andre and Jordan Ayew do what their famous father, Abedi Ayew ‘Pele’ could not do 23 years ago, had to be well and truly remixed.

Without a doubt this was a painful defeat’ painful because it came against the same opposition that denied Ghana 23 years ago in Senegal and in the same fashion.

The only difference was that 24 spot kicks were taken back then, but 22 were taken on Sunday night in Bata.

For Cote D’Ivoire, it is significant that their two African Nations Cup triumphs have come at the expense of the Black Stars of Ghana.

No wonder Andre Ayew was in tears after it was all over, just like Abedi wept after the realization that he would miss the final at the 1992 African Nations Cup.

With the quality of performance on display, let me say without fear or favour that this was by far Ghana’s most accomplished display in years.

Funny thing is that whenever the Black Stars have played above themselves, they eventually end up vanquished.

Remember the 2010 AFCON final against Egypt? Or the 2012 AFCON semifinal against Zambia?

Personally though, this defeat was painful, even though the Ivorians initially dominated possession.

Even then, Christian Atsu was desperately unlucky to hit the up right with Boubacar Barry well beaten.

Both teams battled on but Ghana looked stronger; especially in the second half.

To put it bluntly, for the medium to long term, it is time that a long term successor was found for team captain Asamoah Gyan.

Gyan recovered in time to take to the field, but he couldn’t impose himself on the game and Kwesi Appiah, impressive in previous games, looked out of depth on the big occasion.

Goals remain the lifeblood of the game and that is an area that going forward, Avram Grant and his technical team would have to work on.

That said, both Gyan and Appiah were willing runners, but credit also needs to be given to the Ivorian defence, with Eric Bailly emerging as a star for the future.

Ghana’s back four were immense on the night; repelling all that was thrown at them.

Full backs Harrison Afful and Baba Rahman were diligent and efficient, whilst John Boye put in perhaps his best ever performance for the Black Stars alongside a similarly impressive Jonathan Mensah in defence.

The midfield combo of Afriyie Acquah and Mubarak Wakaso looks nailed on to be there for years to come, barring loss of form, whilst Andre Ayew gave his all and fought like a true warrior.

No wonder he broke down after Barry converted the winning penalty.

Christian Atsu used this tournament to confirm that he is one of the most technically gifted players, not only in Africa, but in the World.

He had a superb tournament and he deservedly won the Player of the Competition Award.

Avram Grant was told to go and do well, but I daresay that he performed beyond expectations, because not many gave Ghana a dog’s chance, especially after a 1-2 loss to Senegal in the opening match.

This tournament would have given him the chance to know his players more and now, he will have enough time to adequately prepare the team for the 2017 African Nations Cup, which could be potentially hosted in Ghana.

I am disgusted at the way people are hitting out at Asamoah Gyan because he refused to take a penalty kick.

This is a player who almost left the Ghana camp during the 2008 African Nations Cup because he was being vilified by fans despite carrying an injury at the time.

He also had to endure vicious abuse from fans after missing the penalty against Uruguay at the 2010 World Cup.

After he missed the penalty against Zambia in the 2012 African Nations Cup semifinal, the abuse and vitriol extended towards his family members, forcing him into voluntary retirement from the Black Stars for a while.

He made a vow to his mother, who had now passed on, not to take any penalty kick for the Black Stars again. With the benefit of all this information, why should he have put himself in the firing line again?

What if he had missed?

Sometimes some of us are way too hypocritical and we do not even stop to think for a moment that these Black Stars players are human.

Let him be, and do not blame him.

Let us not forget that but for his goal against Algeria, the Black Stars would have left the competition at the Group stage.

In the same breath, I also think it will be grossly unfair on anyone’s part to single out Afriyie Acquah and Frank Acheampong for blame simply because they missed.

In as much as we need to prepare better for penalty kicks, Acquah was one of our best penalty takers in training and indeed, Frank Acheampong is an accomplished penalty taker himself, from those of us who followed him at King Faisal and Berekum Chelsea.

Such things happen and so for me, they rather need to be encouraged.

Acquah was for me the best defensive midfielder of the tournament and Acheampong has a great future with the Black Stars, so let us not destroy them before they hit the heights we all want.

Avram Grant deserves commendation because he has successfully married flair with the three traits missing from the team at the 2014 World Cup; organization, balance and tactical discipline.

He has a great platform to build on and for me, he has work to do but the Ghana Football Association got it spot on in hiring him.

What needs to happen though is that the belt of transition between the Black Satellites and the Black Stars needs to be restored.

After Ghana won the 2009 World Youth Cup, Andre Ayew, who captained that team, was joined by Jonathan Mensah, Dominic Adiyiah, Samuel Inkoom and Daniel Agyei in Ghana’s World Cup squad in South Africa the following year.

Other members of that squad, like Emmanuel Agyemang Badu and Rabiu Mohammed have since become fixtures in Ghana squads.

Contrast that with what happened when, after Ghana performed creditably to win bronze at the 2013 World Youth Cup, not even one member of that team made it onto the roster for the 2014 World Cup.

Only two members of that team, Baba Rahman and Frank Acheampong, travelled with the Black Stars to Equatorial Guinea.

In order to ensure that talents keep coming through, that link needs to be re-established and that is why it is good to note that Grant would be working closely with Sellas Tetteh, currently in charge of the Black Satellites.

Grant will also get the opportunity to see the players in the local league and that would be another avenue for talents to emerge.

It was painful, but hopefully lessons would have been learnt and there is indeed light at the end of the tunnel.

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