The Black Stars have real chance of winning their first Nations Cup title since 1982. But victory has a cost that many fans should calculate with realism, reports Michael Oti Adjei from Accra.
That Ghana has not ascended the continental pinnacle in 30 years is a cold, hard fact weighing heavily on its football fraternity. No member of the current team was born when the Black Stars last won the trophy in Libya in 1982.
With the absence of Cameroon and Egypt from this year’s tournament, those looking for a resurrection of Ghana’s glory days believe the moment of redemption finally beckons. Between them, Cameroon and Egypt – sharp thorns in Ghana’s flesh – amassed a total of nine titles over the three decades the Black Stars failed to win any. Egypt has long sped past Ghana’s four-time record, with a total of seven wins, whilst Cameroon’s Indomitable Lions caught up with the West Africans in 2002.
Brimming with optimism over the last few months, Ghana’s national expectations in the run-up to the tournament have, perhaps, become unrealistically high. Even the players have been sucked into the vortex, as they continually reiterate their burning desire to end the long years of disappointment.
But telling the Ghana Football Association (GFA) president, Kwesi Nyantekyi, that the absence of the usual Nations Cup suspects offers his side the trophy on a platter will not get a welcome response.
“The people who say that do not exactly understand their football,” he argues.
“In 1992, Denmark were last-minute replacements at the European Championship and still won it. Countries like Cameroon and Egypt do have fantastic records but they failed to qualify. Niger, Guinea and Senegal, who denied so-called big teams places at the tournament, are in better form at the moment.”
That, of course, does not deny the obvious – the absence of Egypt, Cameroon and Nigeria certainly favours Ghana, whose form has progressed steadily over the last five years. After an early exit from the 2006 Nations Cup in Egypt, the Black Stars have earned semi-final and final spots in the ensuing two tournaments. Such a progression leaves a logical expectation that ascending to the top in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon is a realistic target.
“After the last Nations Cup, the hope and expectation has been that we will win the next one,” the GFA boss says. He did not forget to add a caveat, though: “All 16 teams that have qualified are capable of winning the trophy. The difference will be in having proper preparation and fielding a team that has discipline and purpose.”
On the surface, Ghana’s group – with tournament debutant Botswana, Mali and Guinea – does not look the most tasking. But earning a quarter-final ticket is far from guaranteed. Guinea qualified for the Nations Cup at Nigeria’s expense, and Mali possess a pack of quality players that could, on their day, give any opponent a run for their money. It is a chastening message that many ex-internationals are keen to preach.
“When you listen to the radio, you get the impression that all Ghana have to do is to turn up in Gabon/Equatorial Guinea and lift the trophy,” former Bayern Munich defender, Samuel Osei Kuffour, says.
“It will not be that easy. There are credible teams we must give respect to… I hear all the talk about not winning for 30 years. It’s too much pressure. Let’s go easy on the side.”