For a manager widely believed not capable of building a dynasty everywhere he’s been, Avram Grant will be tasked with the most difficult job of guiding Ghana to a major title triumph.
When George Alhassan and Opoku Nti led Ghana to their last Nations Cup triumph in 1982, there were half the teams involved now.
Seven countries will travel to host nation Libya and battle it out for the bragging rights as the best team on the African continent.
These days, 16 sides with majority of their players plying their club trade outside the continent vie for the trophy.
Household names such as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Sadio Mane, Riyad Mahrez and Mohammed Salah will grace the four stadia in Gabon.
The Egyptian will line up against Ghana on January 25 in a Group D encounter after the Black Stars have played against Uganda on January 17 and Mali on January 21.
How Grant approaches the tournament is up for discussion but it’s not just his tactics that could make or unmake Ghana at the tournament, it’s the nation’s inability to do away with off-the-field issues.
One has the sense that many will continue to make the case that once the problems away from the pitches are solved, Ghanaians will be celebrating their way to a possible final showing.
Perhaps the influence that Grant’s arrival should have brought to calm nerves and induce discipline in a team that demeaned itself in front of billions of observers in the Brazil 2014 World Cup.
Ghana’s class abated and ridiculed so much that the once feared African football side was now the weakest link in Pot 1 of the 2017 AFCON draw.
Gabon the hosts, Algeria the top-ranked African side and Cote d’Ivoire, the current holders of the title, were the sides to avoid.
In the end Egypt, Mali and Uganda were handed the handling for Grant’s side.
The former Chelsea , who has failed to guide Ghana to pick maximum points in his last four games in all competitions, has to find a way past a resurgent Egypt, the Cranes of Uganda, a side he failed to beat at home in the 2018 World Cup Qualifier, and a Mali side that have been tricky opponents for the Black Stars in recent games at the tournament.
In one sense, it should be easier. Not only does Ghana have the experience at top level African football, but also the four-time champions have been to the latter stages of the last five AFCONs and would be confident of marshaling their way through again. With an array of talent at Grant’s disposal, he will be expected to win the ultimate, nothing else, but win.
Egypt has proven themselves as perennial masters of the competition – winning a seventh in 2010 while beating Ghana in the final – and will be favorites to eclipse their rivals in Group D.
Mali, having beaten Ghana in the 2012 and 2013 editions’ third place play-off games, will greet themselves in the dressing room – prior to the game against the Black Stars – with firm belief they will emerge victors.
Uganda’s head coach Milutin Sredojevic who guided the Cranes to AFCON finals for the first time in 39 years, is confident.
“Impossible is nothing. Possible is everything. We shall measure our values; test our character against good teams. We have a realistic chance to get good results and pass the group.”
After all, his side held the 2015 runners-up to a 0-0 draw in Tamale in a 2018 World Cup qualifying game.
If Ghana they will be able to negotiate victories in the deadly group, they will have to put their house in order. There are tough nuts to crack, most notably the languishing relationship between the Ghana Football Association and the country’s Minister of Sports, Nii Lante Vandapuye.
Vandapuye’s stance of ensuring the FA will not overstate budgets and circumspectly look into matters of corruption concerning the football governing body are leading to a mass destruction of the West African nation’s football future.
Much has been documented in recent times concerning the ongoing saga, so let’s leave the topic for another day’s feature.
There is the other burgeoning issue of the dressing room conflicts among top stars. Grant will be tasked with coax quality performances out of his squad in Port Gentil where Ghana begins their trophy hunt on January 17.
The Black Stars in its present guise aren’t reaching for the stars. However, the problems will be solved; they must be to prevent another terrible humiliation.
By Thierry Nyann|3news.com|Ghana