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Opinions of Friday, 15 February 2013

Columnist: Appiah, Papa

Ghana Congratulates 'Hot-headed' Neighbours

Ghanaians have a soft spot for our hot-headed neighbours. We love to hate each other in a friendly sort of way. Yet our mutual respect for each other has never been in doubt. That is why I would like to, on behalf of my rather heartbroken countrymen, congratulate our Nigerian brothers for a job well done.

My earliest recollection of the Nigerian football team was when as a little boy, I watched a game between the Black Stars and the Green Eagles on the little black and white television that our neighbour had. That giant of a man Okala was in goal for Nigeria and Ghana's captain was Kwesi Owusu, a policeman by profession. I still remember an altercation between the two men which resulted in Okala slapping Kwesi Owusu in the face. The good policeman that he was, Kwesi Owusu had not replied in kind. He had just looked up to his God in heaven and shook his head. He forgave our hot-headed neighbour.

At their best, Nigeria has always been a joy to watch. Who can forget the silky skills of Mathematical Odegbami, the man who set the 1978 AFCON alight, or the deft touches of JJ Okacha? But above all, Nigeria has shown the rest of us, how to utilise the potential of local coaches. Stephen Keshi did not come out of the blue to coach Nigeria. Granted, he played professional football in Europe for several years, but that would have been no justification for taking over the Nigerian team.

Stephen Keshi had to go and prove his worth as a coach elsewhere to qualify to coach Nigeria. He took up the Togo job in 2004 and helped them qualify for the World cup. Politics meant he could not go to the World Cup, but Keshi had proved his worth. He went back to coach Togo, then Mali and then back to Togo before taking up the Super Eagles job in 2011. Since 2004, Keshi had been coaching smaller national teams constantly before finally qualifying to coach the Eagles. He deserves whatever he is getting now. He has worked hard for it. Still, football is a result game and Keshi was under immense pressure to produce results and he did.

Compare that background with Ghana's Kwesi Appiah who, years after his career ended, found himself as Assistant coach of Ghana, and then for some strange reason, coach of Ghana. No, results don't matter for Kwesi Appiah, he is building long-term, though no one has evidence of his capability to build a team short or long term. But that is Ghana for you.

Anyway, congratulations my hot-headed brothers. Enjoy your victory.

Papa Appiah