No rally, no barrage, just a meek wilt, and surrender: The Black Stars have a lot of soul-searching to do going forward.
It’s not the worst tool in the box, but it could be when wielded wrongly.
Three years ago, Ghana’s senior national team misused it spectacularly, defying the powers-that-be — and logic itself — in holding the nation to ransom at the Fifa World Cup in Brazil, refusing to play a minute of football till huge appearance fees owed them were paid in full.
It was a show of defiance the boys would get condemned for by their countrymen; an ill-timed, ill-advised display of guts they’ll pay for till this hurt and scarred generation is replaced by the next. The Black Stars have tried all they could in quest of redemption: they’ve been contrite, resolute, even brilliant on occasion. Heck, they even attempted winning the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations — coming desperately close, in fact — just to reclaim some love!
What they hadn’t tried, though, was the one thing which got them entangled in this mess in the first place: defiance. They had a couple of chances building up to this failure to secure a World Cup berth in Russia next year to right their wrongs and perhaps warm their way into the hearts of Ghanaians again; the first – most probably the biggest – of which came against Rwanda in their final Afcon 2017 qualifier. It wasn’t an opportunity they were expecting, however, only one afforded them unwittingly by the Ministry of Youth and Sports’ reluctance to provide the usual luxuries on offer when international assignments were due.
Armed with the excuse that Ghana’s place at the following year’s Nations Cup in Gabon had already been booked, and that the result versus the visiting Amavubi would be no threat to the hosts’ position as Group H leaders/winners, the State arbitrarily decided to withhold funds allocated to be spent on the players’ ticket fares from their respective stations overseas (reasoning that such expenses could be spared if local players were called up instead, for the game) while slashing the usual winning bonus in half.
Were the already invited foreign-based professionals going to be coughing up their own travel costs? And were they even going to bother being at their best in a game which offered so ‘little’ in any actual gain (financial or otherwise)?
Well, to their credit, they did — and an expression of bloody-minded defiance was key, though for all the right reasons this time. The boys didn’t just show up against the Rwandans. They came with intent to win — even if Grant didn’t exactly put his strongest team out there, perhaps in assessing what alternatives he had with respect to squad depth ahead of an upcoming Russia 2018 qualifying game — and only a late equaliser from the east Africans robbed Ghana of a third straight home win in the Afcon 2017 qualifying series.
Not everyone was impressed, of course; an overwhelming majority of Ghanaians probably still considered the team a bunch of spoilt brats ever so willing to have their way. Still, they’d won some over, hadn’t they?
One venue the Black Stars felt they commanded a fair bit of goodwill was the Tamale Stadium which was going to be the ground the team was hoping get their World Cup Qualifying campaign off to a brilliant start. It wasn’t to be, as the doggedness of their first group opponents – the Cranes of Uganda – coupled with the harsh afternoon sun as one would expect at any venue in Northern Ghana – temperatures topping 37˚C as some points – meant the best Ghana could get from that game was a goalless soulless draw.
Not the kind of result you’d expect from a team with any fighting chance of making a Mundial more so, when Egypt – also housed in the same group and have been absent that the world stage for nearly three decades – was breathing down their necks, hellbent on wrestling that sole ticket the group had to offer from Ghana. A subsequent, almost inevitable defeat to Egypt in Alexandria were all the signs the Nation needed to realise situation was dire and that the time had come for everybody to put their shoulder to the plough and rescue our ‘beloved’ Black Stars from the quicksand it was in however traitorous we feel the team had been in the past.
The nonchalance and a resolve not to forgive the players by a large section of the Ghanaian media and the general populace might have overstayed their welcome and probably left a tad bit too late when the final nail was all but driven into the Stars’ coffin after yet another damning draw at home to group minnows Congo Brazzaville. Now, with nothing to play for, a new-look Black Stars’ fight and defiance in Kampala in the penultimate group game won a few more admirers and left many feeling they could have done a bit more to help the team fight. Ghana has now finished the 2018 World Cup Qualifying series in third place – behind Egypt and Uganda – drawing four, winning one and losing the other. Now the chips are down. Time to dress the wounds and pick the best balm to soothe and bring some relief going forward.
If the team’s rebelliousness in the past implied they didn’t give a damn about national interests, they’ve now oozed the same trait to show they do care after all.
With so many more battles to be fought — versus a fandom which remains largely skeptical of the Stars’ motives, a sports ministry growing increasingly hostile towards the team, and an FA caught in-between — in going forward, they’d have to ooze some more of that.