We’ve got to halt the early exits!
• Kurt Okraku – Ghana FA President
There were mixed feelings of potential accomplishment when Ghana’s national team, Black Stars, bade the nation farewell to embark for the 2022 Qatar World Cup tournament – still ongoing.
Some Ghanaians were fairly optimistic about the team’s adventure in their fourth Mundial – others were not, insisting the present Black Stars consisted of too many inexperienced players who would find the terrain too hot to handle.
Thus, essentially, many were told to manage their expectations.
What may have slightly raised the hopes of some Ghanaians was when the Stars comprehensively beat Switzerland 2-0 in their last preparatory game before departing for Qatar. Indeed, it was a compellingly magnificent performance and on the face of it, it was going to be difficult to totally write off the team at the tournament.
Ghana found itself in Group H alongside Portugal, South Korea and Uruguay. It was a tricky group though, and qualification was going to be one that deserved lots of fight, sweat, blood and sacrifice.
Question: Did the Black Stars fight hard enough? We shall come to that.
The Stars rolled off their campaign with a 2-3 loss to Portugal, a game that could have ended in a draw had the referee not gifted Cristiano Ronaldo an undeserved penalty after Mohammed Salisu’s innocuous challenge in the area. Stirring appeals from the players for the knight-of-the-whistle to consult VAR to check the authenticity of that lousy decision, fell on rocks.
It seems to be a huge plot that will never be overturned as Ronaldo proceeded to tuck it away, becoming the first player to score in five World Cup tournaments.
Spunkily, Ghana managed to put that defeat behind them, upstaging South Korea 3-2 on a frenetic night in their second game to bounce back into contention.
Ghana’s win catapulted them to second spot and needed to draw with Uruguay in the final group game to stand any chance of plucking a Round of 16 berth.
Uruguay, who had lost and drawn with Portugal and South Korea respectively, also had to chase victory against old foe Ghana with the Koreans given the more arduous hurdle of accounting for Portugal.
Believe it or not, South Korea put up a bigger-than-life performance to fetch the desired result over the Portuguese – beating them 2-1 on a memorable night to punch their way into the Round of 16 stage.
Sadly for Ghana, the Stars slumped 2-0 against Uruguay – skipper Andre Ayew having squandered a 21st minute penalty that could have galvanized the team to run their opponents rugged.
It was a revenge that never was, and many Ghanaians around the world felt the pain and anguish of being eliminated by a Luis Suarez-led side that did the unthinkable to Ghana some 12 years ago at the South Africa World Cup.
In that infamous game, Suarez callously ‘hand-volleyed’ out a goal-bound ball in the last seconds of their quarter-final game against Ghana for a penalty that forward Asamoah Gyan would go ahead to blow off.
An ensuing penalty shoot-out after extra-time did not also favour Ghana as the Stars were denied the glory of becoming the first African team to make it to the last-four berth of the World Cup.
It is the reason Ghanaians are saddened by the fact that yet again, Uruguay were responsible for their exit at the World Cup. Perhaps, the only semblance of revenge here is that in spite of the win, the Uruguayans could not progress; as they needed more than the two goals they scored, to sail through.
But on a more critical note, the Stars fail to glow in the Mundial as expected – and bowing out in the first round is not something we should be proud of at all. No matter how you look at it, they failed – and it is good they have apologized to the nation for the let-down.
Indeed, it is so sad that we have to embrace another calamitous first round exit at the World Cup – just like it happened in Brazil 2014, the last time we participated in the Mundial. This has to be halted!
From a modest Round of 16 start (Germany 2006) to a stunning quarter-finals (South Africa 2010), many predicted Ghana to make a brave crack at the World Cup coronet in the next decade or so – or possibly venture into the last-four. Forlornly, it is not what we are seeing now.
This year alone, we have been eliminated in the opening round of two major tournaments – the first being the African Cup of Nations in Cameroon, early January.
As one of the continent’s football powerhouses, this does not speak good of us at all. It is as if we are only interested in qualifying for major tournaments only to go and make the numbers. This must stop!
We should be competitive and be famished for honours – and this we can only achieve if we bury our self-interest and put the nation first above any other thing.
Fortunately, we have some great quality young players in this present Black Stars team which when well-harnessed and guided, could take the world by storm in subsequent tournaments.
It is not all bleak and despair; there is a glowing light at the end of the tunnel. But we must start working now if we are really desirous of halting this trend of disastrous first round eliminations.
By John Vigah