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Opinions of Friday, 22 November 2013

Columnist: Pobee-Mensah, Tony

Black Stars Can Win The World Cup If...

I watched Ghana's world cup game against Italy. When I told a friend afterwards, he asked if you made fools of ourselves. He seemed surprised when I told him I thought we should have won that game and we should have won that game. In subsequent games, my friend came to see that we belonged on the world soccer field just as Italy did. I am sure many believe now that we could have easily moved on to the semi finals in the 2010 World Cup even though I expect to meet with argument if I say we could have won that World Cup.

I believe it was in the 2006 world cup when we played Brazil that I heard a TV commentator say, "now it's Ghana that is playing the beautiful game". We have skills. We have good players, but when we play football, we play like the game we play in Ghana: we dribble more, we hang on to the ball longer than necessary and keep playing as we look for an opening to take a shot at goal. As we do that, we give the other team a chance to shore up their defense. This is the major reason, as I see it, that we don't win cups. Let me share this before I go on. When my oldest son was young, I put him in our youth soccer league. I volunteered to coach his team. Soon I came to realize that those kids didn't even know what to do with their feet let alone knowing how to kick a ball. To make my problem worse, we had practice for two hours on Wednesday and a game on Saturday. How to teach these young men anything about soccer was a conundrum for me. There was only one thing that I thought to do.

I gathered the kids around and drew a soccer field on paper and said to them, "this is our goal, this is their goal. If the ball is here who gets to score." They told me, "They do." Then I asked them, "If the ball is here, who gets to score." They answered, "We do." So I asked, "Where do we want the ball?" They said, "On their side."

Having gotten that message through their heads, I selected the big boys in the team and put them in defense and instructed them to run to the ball and not wait for a the opposing team to bring the ball to them, and then kick the ball as hard as they could into the other team's side. I had to reinforce that message a few times, but that became our game plan. At the end of the season, we had to cancel our last game because of snow. The kids begged and begged for me to have the cancelled game rescheduled because they wanted to be able to say they beat every team in our league.

I will say that if I knew what Coach Kwesi Appiah knows, I will be coaching the Black Stars, but I know enough to know that if the ball is in our half of the field, the other team has a chance to score, and if the ball is in the other team's half of the field, we have a chance to score. I know also that if we are not taking shots at goal, we are not winning: we can dribble all we want.

I have watched the Black Stars "work" the ball too long in front of the opposing team's goal only to give them a chance to build up their defense and in the end, we lost a game that in my opinion, we could have won. I have written about this before and so when Ghana beat Egypt 6-1, I thought maybe we are finally taking more shots at goal. I was looking for Ghana to score at least 3 goals against Egypt in the second leg of the World Cup qualifiers to confirm that we have learnt something about taking shots at goal. With the results of the second leg, I am not sure that we have learnt anything.

If it takes a technical coach to teach this concept to the Black Stars, so be it, but I believe that the concept is too easy to teach to need to bring another person in. Between now and next year, if Coach Appiah manages to teach the Black Stars that the game should be played on the opponent's half of the game and if he can teach them to take shots at goal rather than waste time looking for opening, we will have some hope, otherwise I don't see how we will win the World Cup. Make no mistake; I still believe to my core that Ghana has the skills to win the World Cup despite whatever team we face.

Go Black Stars. And thank you for what you have done for Ghana.