Tomorrow, Kwesi Appiah would have his second debut as head coach of Ghana’s senior national team, the Black Stars, when he comes up against Ethiopia in the first of Ghana’s six group matches in a bid to qualify for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations.
Of course, given the strength of the teams that share space in Group F with the Stars (Ethiopia, Sierra Leone and. Kenya), it would be quite surprising should Ghana fail to make it to the finals. Merely qualifying, though, wouldn’t be good enough. The Stars need to do so in style, considering how much they’ve underwhelmed in recent months. Failing to make any proper mark at the Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon earlier this year — preceded by patchy pre-tournament form — set the team on a downward spiral that has since seen them plummet on the Fifa rankings, with Ghana currently a disappointing 9th and 49th respectively in Africa and the world. Then there was that technical vacuum which ensured the Stars didn’t have any chance of redeeming themselves in the immediate aftermath of the Afcon 2017 fiasco. Now under a freshly appointed head coach, though, Ghana have no excuse not to rebuild and make progress, starting when they play the Ethiopians in Kumasi.
But this game holds much more for Appiah — and, by extension, his new-look backroom staff — than it does for his players. He’s only been weeks into the job officially, but Appiah has already made it obvious his second stint wouldn’t be business-as-usual. The squad he has invited includes several new faces and excludes almost as many established regulars, forcing on Appiah himself the need to prove he’s made the right calls.
It’s one reason why Appiah’s Ghana 2.0 has to get off on the right foot versus Ethiopia, but not by any means the sole reason. This may only be his first official game in charge since his return, but everyone excited by the teaser Appiah has served with his early decisions and the prospects of his star-studded technical team — which is basically everyone, actually — would wish their weighty expectations be fulfilled from the very start. Besides, there are those who still doubt whether or not Appiah is the right man to take Ghana forward, and the 56-year-old would have to win those Thomases over in earnest. Also, given that this is the country’s only competitive game before the must-win 2018 Fifa World Cup qualifiers resume — friendlies with the USA and Mexico would be played in an entirely different setting — Appiah would have little time to experiment.
Success wouldn’t necessarily mean burdening Ethiopia with the number of goals that sunk Lesotho in Appiah’s first debut five years ago, but the performance itself must reflect that same dominant, ruthless spirit. Hopefully, there’d be no floodlight trouble to take off some of the gloss this time. Hopefully, a star would emerge from among the new lads trusted by Appiah, in much the same manner that saw Christian Atsu introduce himself to Ghanaians against Lesotho and blossom into an indispensable star ever since. And, hopefully, the Stars would be emphatic in both their approach and product.
Appiah would have it no other way — and so would the millions of observers.