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Sports Features of Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Source: Asempah, Isaac

It’s Now Or Never For The Black Stars!

The last time Ghana won the nations cup was 29 years ago in Libya, specifically on the 19th of March, 1982. The 1982 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) was a memorable occasion for the nation because it was to reaffirm our resolve as being the best football nation on the continent of Africa and the tournament that unveiled an eighteen year old prodigy, Abedi Ayew Pele, who later became three times African player of year.

After the trophy winning streak in 1982, all attempts by the Black Stars to reclaim the trophy have proved futile, with our best performances being runners-up in the 1992 and 2010 AFCON. At the time Ghana won her fourth title in ‘82, Cameroon was yet to win the trophy but have soldiered on to equal our performance after feats in 1984, 1988, 2000 and 2002.

In the role-call to the 2012 Nations’ Cup, there would be no Egypt, Cameroon, Nigeria and South Africa who amongst them have won the tournament 14 times. The break down might be obvious but for emphasis, let’s have it: Egypt, the defending champions won their unprecedented seventh title two years ago in Angola whiles Cameroon have been successful on four occasions. The Super eagles of Nigeria have won the trophy on a couple of occasions with South Africa achieving this feat just once when they hosted the tournament in 1996. This goes to suggest that of the 53 or so nations in Africa, Egypt, Cameroon, Nigeria and South Africa have left the other 49 countries to share the remaining 13 titles of the 27 which have been contested so far.

With no disrespect, Ghana though placed in the bracket of the other ‘49’ Countries, also has an enviable record of winning the coveted trophy on four occasions.

The Black Stars, have reaffirmed the cliché of being one of the best football nations on the continent -if not the best- by qualifying for the next edition of the 2012 AFCON to be jointly staged by Equatorial Guinea and Gabon, thanks to the Serbian Trainer, Goran ‘Plavi’ Stevanovic and his charges.

In his inaugural press conference with the Ghanaian media on the 12th of January 2011, Plavi emphasized the need to win trophies. “It has been almost 30 years since Ghana last won the African Cup of Nations. The Black Stars were third in 2008, second in 2010. IT IS NOW TIME FOR TROPHIES. It is time to be first again”, he boldly declared.

Based on what Plavi said on that fateful day, the fears of Ghanaians have been allayed and in place are beaming with hope en route to the Nations cup, reckoning that the coach’s job has been made easier by the elimination of Egypt, Cameroon, Nigeria and South Africa from the continent’s most prestigious mundial. It will be unfair on our part to start looking for escape routes for the coach when he has openly stated his resolve to guide Ghana to its 5th AFCON title. Ghanaians have always been moderate in their demands but this time, I trust we have no room to expect anything less from the coach and his charges when we’ve been patient all this while, at least for thirty years. I wonder how many of us don’t want to feel the ambience of an AFCON winning streak with this present crop of players we’ve been blessed with.

It is only natural that we are cautiously optimistic at our prospect of winning the 2012 AFCON when we have countries like Senegal and Ivory Coast breathing heavily down our nerves.

The Teranga Lions of Senegal are in blistering form with their current crop of players, reminiscent of their 2002 squad made up of the Dioufs, Fadigas and the Diops. Presently, Senegal boasts of players like Papiss Demba Cisse, Moussa Sow, Demba Ba, Armand Troare and good old Mamadou Niang among others. Papiss Cisse was the second top scorer in the German Bundesliga last season with 22 goals, the highest any player has scored for SC Freiburg and also the highest any African Player has scored in the Bundesliga after Tony Yeboah’s feat of 20 goals in 1993. Moussa Sow is in devastating form for his club side Losc Lille and he emerged the top scorer in the French Ligue 1 last season with 25 goals. Between them they scored 47 league goals last season which was more than all goals scored by players in the current Black Stars squad for their respective clubs last season. Not only have they shown great form with their clubs, they have equally replicated their form in Senegal’s run-up to their qualification to the 2012 AFCON.

The Elephants of Ivory Coast have always been touted as pre-tournament favourites since 2006 but it is apparent that they flatter to deceive. Peering over my shoulders, I don’t see any other African country wielding so much talent as is prevalent in the current Ivorian team but just like their neighbours Ghana; they don’t have much to show for it albeit winning the trophy 19 years ago after beating Ghana on penalties in Senegal. A real paradox: Ivory Coast beating Ghana in Senegal. Didier Drogba, Salomon Kalou, Kolo Toure, Yahya Toure, Abdelkader Keita, Aruna Kone, Gervinho, Didier Zokora… the list goes unabated. That is the strength of the Ivorian team Ghana has to contend with in our quest to conquer Africa.

Conversely, looking back at lost opportunities Ghanaian football have had to live with in almost three decades, we can’t ask for more than to be handed the 2012 AFCON trophy, when we have been presented with this rare opportunity. In our last two attempts we were dispatched by Cameroon in the semi-finals of the 2008 campaign on home soil and Egypt in the finals of the 2010 showpiece in Angola. Now these two giants have no part or lot in the 2012 exchanges and I reckon as Ghanaians, we can’t ask for more.

I can confidently say that the Ghana football association is not paying Goran Stevanovic so much money because we just want to qualify for the AFCON and place second or third. Who remembers a second placed team? It excites me to know that Plavi understands that Ghanaians are honestly worried and frustrated for not winning the trophy again since the last success in 1982.

Arguments have poured in that we shouldn’t put pressure on the team to go and win the tournament because the countries that qualified ahead of Egypt, Cameroon, Nigeria and South Africa also have the propensity to win the tournament. However, for a country like Niger or Botswana (with no disrespect whatsoever) to win the 2012 AFCON in the full glare of the current squads of Ghana, Ivory Coast and Senegal would be a travesty of football justice and unacceptable to say the least. I will reiterate that we need to be cautiously optimistic but not when the Pharaohs have released the Israelites to go and possess their possessions; and the Lions have become tame whiles the Eagles’ have had their wings clipped; and the Boys have become crying babies. There are a few reasons why Ghanaians should have every reason to hope for the best in 2012. We have performed consistently since the 2006 world cup through to the 2010 world cup in South Africa. Though there have been few omissions, we’ve had the core of our team intact with a chunk of them coming from the 2009 U-20 winning team, who appreciate how it feels to be champions. Beyond this, our last three substantive coaches have been Serbians who instill discipline in their teams and are winning oriented. Moreover, in our run-up to the 2012 mundial, Plavi went through the qualifiers with a 100 per cent record, scoring 9 goals and conceding just one.

African football might be experiencing a paradigm shift though but in this rare situation where there is no Egypt, Cameroon, Nigeria or even South Africa competing with you for honours, I maintain you have no escape route for excuses since all avenues for excuses have been exhausted already.

“IT IS TIME TO WIN TROPHIES. IT IS TIME TO BE FIRST AGAIN”. We are taking the coach for his words which I reckon haven’t changed, at least for now. The opportune time for us to win our 5th title is NOW OR NEVER. A charge to keep we have.

By: Isaac Asempah.

Sports Journalist/ Analyst