I have seen comparisons drawn between the scenario Black Stars find themselves in and that of Ghana’s last AFCON winning team and how history may repeat itself.
What about what happened in 2006? The Black Stars needed to beat Zimbabwe to qualify - or draw with Zimbabwe in the event Nigeria beat Senegal, which they did. What happened? Benjani Mwariwari. Remember him?
Yeah, that dreadlocked striker who played for Manchester City and Portsmouth in England. He led Zimbabwe to beat Ghana by the odd goal in three. So while it is tempting to think history will repeat itself for Ghana to qualify, the reverse is just as likely.
If you monitor the airwaves and commentary on social media, you would think Ghana have to win not because of its importance but because we are Ghana; ‘four time champions, bla bla bla’. There is a misguided sense of entitlement among fans of the team. Winning is not our birthright and no matter the players we may have, it does not entitle us to a win Ghana, much like everyone else, has to earn its qualification to the next round.
If the Black Stars are to get anything from this game, things would have to change. Kwasi and his men need to shift the paradigm. This shift in thinking and performance starts with the coach. It is difficult to tell what Kwesi Appiah wants to do with this team. While he deserves credit for the organisation at the back, questions however remain about what the plan was beyond defending.
What is Kwesi’s plan?
There is nothing wrong with counter-attacking football or any kind of approach that focuses on preventing the opponent from scoring rather than trying to impose your style on them. However, it goes without saying that football is not played in one half of the pitch. Neither does it stop when you win the ball. You need an attacking plan and so far, it has been difficult to tell what Ghana’s plan was.
On Saturday, it appeared Kwesi was so fixated with stopping Cameroun he forgot to put together a plan to actually play when they had the ball. That may sound cynical, hyperbolic even, but in truth, the Black Stars looked out of sorts when they had the ball.
There has been no choreographed attacking move so far. The spacing and movements in both games have been terrible. For a man that has been around for so long a time, it is disappointing how he is unable to get this team play in any distinct way. There are no repeated patterns of play or anything that suggest the coach and players have a long working relationship.
Admittedly, national teams will never have the sort of telepathy and cohesion a club side has due to the short time coaches get to work and for most coaches, that is a big problem. However, when you have been around this team on four occasions twice as interim and twice as substantive coach, it has to count for something. And if ever there was a time to bring that to bear, it is now.
Kwesi Appiah comes in for lot of flack for his late substitutions and the bizarre reasons he offers as explanations. Take the 2014 World Cup in Brazil for example. After dropping Kevin-Prince Boateng and Michael Essien, he said this in his defense. ‘I believe that the young guys who played did well and my intention was to bring them on when the US team got tired but these things happen’. This has continued for so long it has become bête noire to the fans. That has to change too. Kwasi has to make substitutions on time.
Not only that, his game management has to be spot on. He has to counter whatever his opponent presents and quickly. Conversely, if the substitutions are not well timed, it could benefit the opponents rather than the team. It has been fifteen years but Kotoko fans have not forgiven Hans Dieter Schmidt for taking of Charles Taylor in the Confederations Cup final. If Kwasi makes any such mistakes, it will not be the few millions of Kotoko fans he would have to face. It will be the wrath of the entire country.
Time for some tough calls
The AFCON has a very nice way of humbling players who come into the tournament expecting teams to roll over for them. Thomas Partey has found out the hard way. To say Partey has been poor would be kind. It is difficult to explain how he goes missing during large spells of the game. Maybe he is a magician or some shapeshifter and we are only finding out now. When visible, what he’s done with the ball has been anything but effective.
Partey’s performance has been painful to watch and it is criminal how he lasted the full length in both games. Kwasi Appiah, he needs to let his players know that irrespective of their name or where they play, they have to earn their minutes in this team and persisting with flops isn’t exactly the best way to communicate that. Under different circumstances, maybe Partey would have deserved another chance but when you’re at the last chance saloon, you do not hand out such opportunities.
Andre Ayew is a complex character in this team. His goal threat is not in doubt and his work ethic comes in handy quite often. However, Andre is not the same player he was two years ago. His ankles are weak, no longer explosive and would prefer to pass rather than dribble these days. He is not creative too. Yet, there is no question about starting him. For a team that lacks goals and the shift Andre puts in, he has to start. I just do not think he has to last the full length. Andre may have the heart but he no longer has the legs and it would be advisable to take him off after the hour mark.
If Asamoah Gyan had no fitness issues, starting him would be a no brainer. But much like Andre, Gyan’s legs are gone and one wonders whether he can cope with the intensity and physical nature of the games. One thing is certain though, if Gyan is going to play, it has to be for a longer period than he did the last time out. Give him time to settle into the game and let’s see if Baby Jet can fly once more.
Kwasi will do his bit. I would like tothink he will. But the truth is that he has not shown enough for me to trust he will win this game for us. But for all our sakes, I hope he does. For the players it is time to assume responsibility and redeem themselves. For some of them, this will define how their stories with the Black Stars end. So perhaps this is the chance to determine how they will be remembered. Will they be remembered as part of a talented group that were nothing more than nearly men or something more? Only time will tell.
By Victor Atsu Tamakloe