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Sports Features of Wednesday, 16 August 2017


We cannot afford to underrate the Burkinabes

Recent events are enough signals for us to be careful of the minnows we underrated many years ago. Knowing that football is our passion, many countries pay a lot of attention when they are to play Ghana at international levels, it would, therefore, be a sad spectacle to see ourselves falling flat as we move forward.

We continuously bemoaned our fate for missing the World Cup for over 36 years after FIFA gave approval for Africa's single slot from its ninth edition in 1970. We, however, had the loudest applause when we finally qualified for the 2006 tourney held in Germany.

It will be recalled that at the end of the tournament, it was Italy which won the ultimate after beating France 5-3 on penalties. Even though we were nowhere near the top four, the fact that we finished as one of the final 16 gave us a feeling that better days were ahead as we topped the other four African participants that year.

Of course, we were motivated to fight for another chance and we gracefully qualified again when South Africa hosted the tournament in 2010. The Black Stars did a yeoman's job and qualified for quarter-finals, something only two African countries had previously done in the history of association football

In actual fact, had it not been the devilish hand of the Uruguaian striker, Luis Suarez, we could have made it to another African record of reaching the semi-finals. At that level, it was a big achievement for which the continent was very proud and it accorded us a lot of respect.

It must be noted that since then, we had one of the best FIFA rankings we could boast of as the top football nation in Africa but this new status started slipping from our hands and also lost all the bragging rights. It is sad to state that in the latest ratings, Ghana has been placed in the 50th position and ninth on the continent, something which must tell us that others are showing greater tenacity and others are taking the leadership from us.

Looking back, we can see that the game we cherish so much is showing a down trend and we are struggling to keep our heads above water. It must be noted that a nearby country like Burkina Faso has been showing consistent progress and gradually damping our image we built over the years.

One particular year of the Burkinabe progression was in 2013 during the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) tournament held in South Africa. They did well not to lose a match, drawing 0-0 with Zambia and 1-1 with Nigeria, and in the third match they beat Ethiopia 4-0. In the quarter-finals, Burkina beat Togo 1-0 and progressed to the semi-finals where they met their mentors, the one-time untouchable Black Stars.

Only Providence knows how they took the match and the preparation they went through physically and spiritually before meeting Ghana. The Black Stars took things for granted and had the shock of their lives as the final whistle went after full and extra time with 1-1 draw, thus calling for penalty shootout. And when all was settled, the Burkinabes were 5-3 victors.

Our closest neighbours in the north went ahead to face Nigeria in the grand finale, and lost by a narrow 0-1 margin to claim the silver medals. Since then, every match between the Burkinabes and Ghana in every game has become a serious battle.

No wonder, when it was announced that the Black Stars B team would meet the Junior Falcons in the 2018 Championship of African Nations (CHAN) qualifiers, it raised eyebrows everywhere.

Some call them the Black Stars nemesis and others think they are like their seniors who have suddenly become a thorn in the flesh of the Black Stars and are always poised for victory. No wonder, as the boys were gathered to face their nemesis, assistant national coach Maxwell Konadu realised that the task ahead was not a joke and while the local Black Stars (now called Black Stars B) were camped at Prampram, their counterparts took the assignment so serous and decided to train in Morocco but shockingly some of our boys took their bags and baggage and joined the exodus train to some East and South African countries for trials and possible contracts.

Konadu had cause to complain bitterly over the new trend, but continuously expressed confidence in those left in his care at the camp. True to prediction, Coach Konadu went and tested the grounds of the Burkinabes in their capital Ouagadougou and came out with 2-2 draw. Thanks to the resilience of stars such as Gideon Waja, goalkeeper Joseph Addo, Saddick Adams, Patrick Razak, Thomas Abbey, Amos Frimpong, Winful Cobbinah, and others.

Twice the Black Stars B took the lead, and allowed their opponents to level up leaving the chance of qualifying on the second leg slated for Kumasi over still dicey.

I say there are no minnows in the game, and it would be suicidal for the Black Stars B to think that playing at home with all the support would be in the favour. The boys missed the tournament two years ago and are dreaming of qualifying this time, no matter how.