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Opinions of Friday, 15 December 2017

Columnist: Graphic.com.gh

How far can Kwasi Appiah go?

When the 2018 FIFA World Cup draw ended in Moscow last week to determine who would meet who in the 32-nation football tournament slated for Russia in the summer of 2018, the question that came to mind was what the fate of the Black Stars of Ghana would be in the days ahead.

Yes, it would have been fine to be there, but in our absence, all we have to do is to be glorified spectators waiting to see who will be the next world champion.

So many observers have already predicted that since the tournament would be held in Europe, the possibility of a European country picking the ultimate can never be ruled out. It is really unimaginable to allow a country outside Europe to make it.

Europeans have that nostalgic feeling of allowing Brazil to go all the way to Sweden to pick the cup in 1958, and going back to Chile to repeat the dose. In other words, it looked impossible for any country outside Europe to pick the title and the effort of Brazil was unbelievable.

Right now, 14 European countries that have qualified for Russia are Germany, the reigning champions; Russia, the host; Portugal, Spain, France, Denmark, Iceland, Croatia, Switzerland, Serbia, Sweden,Belgium, England and the Netherlands. Their strong challengers from South America are Uruguay, Peru, Argentina, Brazil and Colombia.

Can you imagine that a country such as Italy have for the first time missed the boat to the Word Cup and of course, it has created uproar not only in Italy but the whole of Europe.

Indeed, Europe is not prepared to make the mistake of 1958, which allowed a South American nation to pick the Cup in Europe.

The continent will also feel betrayed by the absence of Italy who have won the ultimate four times in 1934 in Italy, 1938 in France, 1982 in Spain and 2006 in Germany.

In the present exercise in strong preparation for Russia are five African countries made up of Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, Tunisia and Senegal, all looking capable of breaking the impossible African jinx through to reach the semi-finals in the coming tournament.

Perhaps the challengers of each in their various groups are Russia against Egypt in Group A, Spain and Portugal against Morocco in Group B, Argentina against Nigeria in Group D, England and Belgium against Tunisia in Group G and Netherlands against Senegal in Group H.

So far, the only three African countries that have historically passed the test of running over the quarter-finals in the top world tournament are Cameroun, Senegal and Ghana, and for obvious reasons one candidate that would have been a big threat to cross the Rubicon would have been the Black Stars of Ghana, but that was what destiny would not compromise with.

First of all, the Black Stars qualification for the fourth time running would have been another historic event. Indeed, the fourth qualification in succession on the part of an African nation would have been remarkable and unprecedented, especially where that nation had been struggling and failing over a period of 36 years before that breakthrough. One would have expected that those nations such as Tunisia, Cameroun and Nigeria who had made their mark in the Mundial might have the capability of doing it.

But this was what beckoned coaches Avram Grant, the Israeli and our own Kwasi Appiah to do with reasonable ease.

Surely, it looked possible, but then it was obvious that if the Black Stars had qualified, they would have progressed to that seemingly impossible level of the semi-finals but then, who among the five African countries seemed capable of doing it? It is quite unpredictable, but three nations can be trusted for that ordeal, and they are Tunisia, Nigeria and Senegal, not forgetting that Egypt and Morocco can spring some surprises.

Will it not be unique if all citizens and residents of Africa would come together to support each African country that would step on the field to fight for African recognition.

The competition is 88 years old and apart from European and South American competitors, no other nations outside the two have picked the cup; the Europeans have made it 11 times, while the South Americans have done it nine times.
Now, Appiah has been left with the last assignment of great importance and that is the African Nations Cup (AFCON), in Cameroun in 2019.

The whole nation is in a quandary, not knowing what has been the reason for our poor finishing in the African challenge since 1982 when the Black Stars won the championship in Libya with a team that was raised locally. Since then, both local and expatriate coaches have done all they could to change the downward trend, but have been unsuccessful.

This time round, Appiah has accepted the challenge to make every citizen, old and young, happy with the annexing of the ultimate presently in the hands of Cameroun, our next host.

Since 1982, the Black Stars have reached the grand finale three times and failed,against Cote d'Ivoire in 1992 in the Senegalese capital of Dakar, they passed through a marathon penalty ordeal of 11-10.

In Angola in 2010, the Black Stars went into another grand finale and lost to the Pharaohs of Egypt by a lone goal. Then in 2015, the Ivorians stepped up their effort to clash with the Black Stars and survived with another marathon penalty scores of 9-8 in Equatorial Guinea.

We are waiting to see what will happen in Cameroun in 2019, and that will be Appiah's biggest challenge after the World Cup fiasco. In his recent selections, we have been told that what he is bringing out is a young squad that looks capable of running through smoothly.

But the end result, as expected, must be the good landing of the Cup after 37 years. And my belief is that barring all negative reverses, he can do it.