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Sports Features of Thursday, 7 November 2013

Source: footy-ghana.com

Ghana Black Stars: A foot in Brazil (Part I)

The road to qualification has been murky. Ghana is about to realize the dream of making a third successive appearance at the FIFA World Cup, this time to be held at the home of beautiful soccer….and the Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro. I dare say many individuals need Ghana to qualify for the mundial NOT just for the beautiful game of football. Many Ghanaians salivate at the prospect of visiting the home of the wildest carnivals, beautiful beaches, beautiful wo….wait, wait a minute. Has Ghana qualified? Will Ghana qualify?

One thing is for sure. Ghana has shaped its own destiny quite well. And of course, under the tutelage of Kwesi Appiah.

The Journey so far

By virtue of Ghana’s high ranking in the July 2011 FIFA Ranking, they did not take part in the CAF First Round 2014 FIFA World Cup qualification. The first round consisted of 12 home-and-away ties, and featured the 24 lowest ranked teams in Africa. The winners of these series proceeded to the second round.

The Second Round is where it really began for Ghana. The July 2011 FIFA Ranking was used to seed the teams and Ghana was seeded in Pot 1 alongside top teams like, Ivory Coast, Egypt, Nigeria, Cameroon among others.

Ghana was placed in Group D with then defending AFCON 2012 Champions Zambia, Sudan and Lesotho.

Ghana’s first points were picked at the Baba Yara Stadium in Kumasi, in what has become the famous (or infamous?) ‘Floodlights incident’. Ghana hosted Lesotho on June 1, 2012 and won by seven (7) unanswered goals.

Meanwhile, Sudan had recorded a 2-0 win at home over champions Zambia in the Al-Hilal Stadium, Omdurman. We will find out soon why this was a worthy of mention.

Ghana’s next game was eight days later, June 8, at the newly-opened 40,000-capacity Levy Mwanawasa Stadium in Ndola. Ghana lost the game by a lone Christopher Katongo goal.

At this point, Ghana topped Group D by virtue of a better goal difference despite having the same points (3 points) as Zambia. But in October, things turned around.

After Zambia registered a protest, FIFA awarded Zambia a 3-0 win as a result of Sudan fielding the ineligible player Saif Ali in Sudan’s 2-0 win over Zambia on June 2.

This dealt a heavy blow to Ghana’s chances.

Fast-forward to March 2013, after a disappointing showing at the 2013 AFCON in South Africa, Ghana had a plan going forward. Win all remaining four matches. Ghana had successive home and away ties against Sudan and an away tie with Lesotho. Then a final Second Round game against now dethroned champions Zambia.

Again, the home tie against Sudan was played in what is now referred to as Ghana’s spiritual home (football-wise), the Baba Yara Stadium in Kumasi. And trust the football fans in Kumasi to pack up that 38,000-capacity stadium. That, coupled with the fact that the fans are closer to the field than at the Accra Sports Stadium, meant that an intimidating atmosphere would be created and would favour Ghana.

On 24th March, Ghana hosted and convincingly beat Sudan, 4-0. Gyan, who had relinquished his captain band to the returning Sulley Muntari, was on the score sheet, with rising star Mubarak Wakaso, Abdul Majeed Waris (who got his debut goal) and Emmanuel Agyemang Badu.

The first twist

What is necessary to state at this point is that, Lesotho had done Ghana a huge favour by getting a 1-1 draw with Zambia. Zambia still led the group with 7 points, Ghana followed with 6 points. But Zambia dropped points.

On to the next one. June 8. Al-Merrikh Stadium, Omdurman, Sudan. Ghana recorded a 3-1 away win over Sudan. Captain Asamoah Gyan’s brace helped him equal and surpass Ghana’s standing record topscorer, Abedi Pele. Abedi’s record was 33 goals, Gyan now had 34 goals. Sulley Muntari was also on the score sheet.

Meanwhile, Zambia’s 4-0 thrashing of Lesotho meant Ghana was far from comfort. Zambia still led the group with 10 points, Ghana second with 9 points.

The second twist

The penultimate game of the Second Round was on Sunday June 16, at the Setsoto Stadium, in Maseru, Lesotho. Ghana won that game by two unanswered goals, Rennes defender John Boye opened the scoring and Captain Asamoah Gyan extended his record to 35 goals. But Ghana was most overjoyed because of what happened in Ndola the day before.

On Saturday June 15, Sudan held home side Zambia to a 1-1 score in the Levy Mwanawasa Stadium. This meant that Ghana leap-frogged Zambia in the group standings. Ghana now topped Group D with 12 points and a +14 goal difference, and Zambia followed with 11 points and a +8 goal difference.