Let’s do a bit of reminiscing shall we? En route to qualification for the world cup in 2006, Ghana beat South Africa in their own backyard recording a 2-0 victory in Johannesburg in a game which will forever live long in the memory. That stunning victory put Ghana in pole position to seal what would eventually be a maiden appearance at the global showpiece. It is a performance that is still revered and it is seen by many as a reference point as far as the present day Stars is concerned as Stephen Appiah and co left an indelible mark that has been tattooed on Ghanaian hearts since. In the qualification group campaign for the 2010 world cup, the Stars sealed qualification without breaking a sweat as Ghana sealed qualification before any other team on the continent even with 2 games to spare.
Ghana beat Sudan 2-0 in Accra to achieve that feat in what was a simply straightforward qualification campaign for Ghana.And then there was the qualification for the 2014 world cup. In a two-legged final tie breaker, Ghana sealed qualification even before a ball was kicked in the 2nd leg after comprehensively whipping Egypt in a 6-1 rout. On that faithful afternoon in Kumasi, the Stars played like they were possessed impressing immensely with a virtuoso performance and strolling our way quite straightforwardly to Brazil. How times can change.
On Sunday, Egypt beat Ghana by 2-0 in Alexandria to deal chances for Russia 2018 an enormous blow and the wheels are starting to come off. This writer opined in his last piece that Egypt could quite literally hand the same bitter pill the Stars handed them 3 years ago and oh boy how that turned out to be true. The Pharaohs prior to the game had been talking up the prospect of picking maximum points and quickly wrapping up qualification to avoid any potential last day jitters. And on Sunday’s evidence they seem to be on the right track as they can effectively seal qualification with two further victories depending on other results of course.
They didn’t have to be spectacular against the Stars as they forfeited the lion’s share of the ball to the Stars and waited for their moments to punish Ghana. In a game of crucially finer margins, Egypt got the job done and at the moment are looking home and dry for Russia 2018. For Ghana, a dose of reality has been served. And let us all for a second put our unrelenting and unabated chauvinism aside and have a piece of this dose for ourselves and accept that qualification is not in our hands anymore.
Now the rot is even threatening in reaching new heights. It is now 5 games since the Stars tasted victory and have scored a paltry 2 goals in that period shipping in 5 as well. Where was the cutting edge in Alexandria? The performance against Egypt in itself was probably the best we have seen from the Stars in the ongoing winless run. The buildup was swift, our usual fluid free-flowing football was in full flow especially in the 1st half and how we were unable to turn that first half dominance into goals leaves a lot to be desired. Jordan Ayew, who was supposed to be playing as the arrow-head in attack found himself drifting way too deep to pick up balls and I did not think I will say this but we missed Gyan desperately. His predatory and poachers instincts were solely missed in a half when the Stars clearly should have had something to show for their dominance and how we were made to rue that with Afful’s clumsy challenge having zero qualms of a penalty.
And from there, it was nigh on inevitable that the Pharaohs were going to further consolidate their lead. Once again, this writer stated before the game that when moments in the game are turning out to be grim, inspiration will have to come from somewhere. Well it did not and the one who was always going to spur the charges on, with his trademark clapping and euphoric momentum building looked in no physical shape to even do that. Dede’s first kick of the ball made it glaringly clear that he was not in peak condition enough for the rigorous demands of the game and so it panned out. That did not even matter as Egypt put the final nail in the coffin with an 86th minute strike ensuring that the Stars left Alexandria empty-handed and with yet another setback. It has been argued that generally Ghana barely breaks a sweat as far as qualification for major tournaments in recent times has been concerned. The Stars’ run of 5 winless games started with mere non competitive games and international friendlies but now in the last 2 very crucial games, the dismal run has crept into the business end of the qualifiers where there are not very many chances to pick points and have one over your rivals.
It is agonizingly worrying that after 2 games, the Stars lie third on the log and are struggling to gain a foothold in a group where even Uganda are already fancying their chances after match day two. Of course playing away is always a daunting prospect quite indisputably and this is Egypt we are talking about so a defeat to the Pharaohs at this stage away from home would not have been a complete disaster after all. That said, what is obviously the utter disaster momentarily is that unforgivable 0-0 stalemate against Uganda in Tamale. How did we go out of our way to even drop points in that game ? Two precious points dropped has put us in this precarious position and if we had picked up maximum points against the Cranes, we could still be in the reckoning. The Cranes of Uganda beat Congo by 1-0 and at this stage are even feeling bullish about their chances.
Talk of “operation 12 points” by the local the media and pundits alike after the Alexandria debacle is a ridiculous and laughable one. Let’s not even try to leave ourselves out of a limb here for we might look like clowns in the end. Best case scenario, the Stars win all remaining 4 games and what happens next. Egypt will have to drop points and so do Uganda and if we are going to delude ourselves and think even Uganda will offer no resistance and allow us to walk over them simply in their own backyard when at the time they could also be in with an outside chance of qualification, then we should begin revisiting our scripts.
The Stars are on the brink and maybe we should save ourselves of the excruciating torture and probably accept that the dream fourth straight world cup appearance is nothing but a mirage now. It is an unenviable position we find ourselves in now. Egypt are leaders with 6 maximum points, Uganda lie 2nd with 4 and Ghana follow suit with 1. It is as unequivocal as it looks like now. Even if we win all 4 remaining games, we will have to rely on favors elsewhere to potentially seal qualification.
Ghana looks like an outsider now with the odds heavily stuck against us to leapfrog Uganda and Egypt. Once again allow this writer to refer you to a piece he wrote before the Uganda game. He opined that, it is imperative that the 9 maximum points are picked in the home games and then the banana skins of away games be also negotiated in a favorable way to add up to the 9 points won at home. The Stars did not pay heed and dropped two points at home and even if ( and it’s a very big if) we pick 12 points in the remainder of the games and we are still unable to qualify, that 2 precious points dropped could be rued bitterly and the Stars cannot have any complaints. In this precipice, we cannot blame anybody but ourselves.
By Enoch Andoh-Mensah